16 Samskara – The Sixteen Rites of Passage in Hinduism

16 Samskaras in Hinduism

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.

The 16 samskaras, also known as the 16 sacraments or the 16 rites of passage, are a series of rituals and ceremonies that mark the various stages of a Hindu’s life, from birth to death. These samskaras are believed to purify and sanctify the individual and prepare them for the next stage of human life. The rituals are typically performed by a Hindu priest or a family member who is well-versed in the rituals and is assisted by other family members or friends.

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.

A) Pre-Natal Sanskar

1. Samskara Garbhaadaan (Conception)

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 (Quickening the fetus)

This ritual aims to procreate a 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 ritual is performed by a Hindu priest and involves various ceremonies and offerings to the gods and goddesses who are believed to bless the couple with a child. The ritual may also involve the recitation of mantras and the use of sacred items such as flowers, fruits, and grains.

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 (Parting of hair)

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 into 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.

B) Childhood Sanskar

4. Jaatkarm (Birth rituals)

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 him or her 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 (Naming the child)

This ceremony gives the baby a new name, blesses it, and wishes 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 (Taking the child out of home)

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 (First Feeding)

The Annaprashana ritual is performed in the sixth month after the child is born. It is believed that the child has acquired an 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 or Mundan (First tonsure)

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.

9. Karnavedh (Piercing the ear)

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 ear lobes. 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 them 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.

C) Educational Sanaskar

10. Vedaarambh (Initiation)

This ritual is similar to the previous one. Once the guru makes the student perform the Upanayanam, he begins to share the knowledge of the Vedas (holy scriptures) with him.

Vedaarambha, also known as Vidyarambham, is a Hindu ritual that marks the beginning of a child’s formal education. The ceremony typically takes place on the auspicious day of Vijayadashami, which falls in September or October. The child is typically between the ages of 2 and 5 years old at the time of the ceremony.

During the ceremony, the child is seated on a wooden plank and is made to write the letters of the alphabet, usually on rice grains spread on a plate or sometimes on the sand, by a teacher or a learned person. This act is symbolic of the child’s initiation into the world of knowledge and learning.

After the child completes writing the letters, the teacher or the learned person will recite a prayer to invoke the blessings of the gods and goddesses of learning, and the child’s parents will give the child a new set of clothes and a small amount of money as a symbol of the child’s new status as a student.

11. Upanayana or Yagyopaveet (Sacred thread)

Upanayana is a Hindu ritual that marks the beginning of a child’s formal education and spiritual journey. It is typically performed for boys between the ages of 8 and 12, and less frequently for girls. The word “upanayana” literally means “to lead or bring near” and refers to the child being brought near to the knowledge of the sacred texts and the guru who will teach them.

During the ceremony, the child is invested with the sacred thread or “yajñopaveetam” which symbolizes the boy’s spiritual commitment and marks his entry into the second stage of life, called “brahmacharya”. The child will start learning the Vedas, rituals, and spiritual disciplines, which is the main purpose of Upanayana.

The ceremony includes rituals such as the child’s head being shaved and the wearing of a new set of clothes, the child receiving blessings from the guru and the parents, and the child’s initiation into the study of the Vedas. It is typically performed by a Hindu priest or a qualified teacher. 

12. Samavartanam (Graduation)

Samavartanam, also known as Snāna-saṃskāra or Snāna-saṃskāra-Sambrama, is a Hindu ritual that marks the end of the student’s formal education and his return to the householder’s life. It typically takes place after the completion of the student’s education, usually around the age of 16-24.

During the ceremony, the student takes a ceremonial bath, which symbolizes the purification of the mind and body, and marks the end of the student’s life as a brahmachari (celibate student) and the beginning of the next stage of life, as a Grihastha (householder). The student then receives blessings from the guru and the parents and is given new clothes, which symbolize the end of the student’s spiritual journey and the beginning of his new role as a householder.

D) Marriage Sanskar

13. Paanigrahan or Vivaah (Wedding)

Vivaha, also known as the Hindu wedding ceremony, is one of the 16 samskaras in Hindu tradition. It is a sacrament that marks the union of a man and a woman and the beginning of their life together as husband and wife.

Vivaha is typically an elaborate and elaborate ceremony that usually spans several days. The ceremony includes various rituals such as the exchange of garlands, the tying of the sacred thread around the couple’s wrists, the fire ceremony, and the exchange of vows. The couple also takes blessings from their parents and the Gods, they also receive blessings from the guru and other learned persons.

It is worth noting that different regions and communities in India have their own variations and customs in the wedding ceremony, but the main purpose and rituals are more or less similar, a healthy start to married life.

E) Spiritual Sanskar

14. Vanaprastha (Retirement)

Vanaprastha is the third stage of life according to Hindu tradition, after the householder stage and before the renunciant stage. It is a time when an individual is expected to withdraw from the material world and focus on spiritual pursuits. This stage usually takes place in the later years of life and is characterized by the individual’s withdrawal from the responsibilities of the householder and giving up material possessions.

15. Sanyasa (Renunciation)

Sannyasa is the fourth and final stage of life according to Hindu tradition, it is the stage of renunciation, a person in this stage is expected to detach themselves from the material world and dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits and self-realization. This stage usually takes place in the later years of life and is characterized by the individual’s total renunciation of the world, including the abandonment of all material possessions and the pursuit of a solitary and ascetic lifestyle.

These two samskaras (Vanaprastha and Sanyasa) are not mandatory for everyone. They are taken up by those who have a calling for spiritual pursuits, especially for the renunciation stage.

F) Death Sanskar

16. Antyeshti (Death rites)

Anthyesthi, also known as Antyakriya or Antya-kriya, is the last of the 16 samskaras in Hindu tradition. It is the ritual of a funeral and final rites that are performed for the deceased. The rituals are performed to help the soul of the deceased to reach the afterlife and attain peace.

The rituals typically include washing and dressing the body, performing the last rites such as the lighting of the funeral pyre, and offerings of food, flowers, and other items to the deceased. The family and friends of the deceased may also perform additional ceremonies such as the Shraddha ceremony, which is performed on the anniversary of the person’s death, and the Tarpana ceremony, which is performed to honor the deceased’s ancestors.

The rituals are typically performed by a Hindu priest or a family member who is well-versed in the rituals and is assisted by other family members or friends. The rituals are usually performed at the place of death or at a cremation ground.