For the hindu, life is a sacred journey; and every step from birth to death is marked, and thus acknowledged, through traditional ceremony, called samskara. A samskara is an enduring impression etched into the malleable substance of a person’s mind at a psychological point in life. During these Hindu rites of passage, a temple or home ceremony deeply influences the soul and directs life along the path of dharma.
There are many types of samskaras, from the rite prior to conception to the funeral ceremony. Each one, properly observed, empowers spiritual life, preserves religious culture and establishes bonds
with inner worlds as the soul consciously accepts each succeeding discovery and duty in the order of God’s creation. Religious samskaras serve two purposes. First, they mark clearly within our minds the occasion of an important life transition. Second, they solicit special blessings from the devas and Deities, society and village, family and friends. These blessings and feelings of love have a markedly positive effect, stabilizing the mind so that the deeper meanings of life can unfold within us.
The best rendering of samskara in English is made by the word sacrament, which means “religious ceremony or act regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace.” Sacrament
also means “confirmation of some promise or oath; things of
mysterious significance, sacred influence and symbol.”
A very brief description about 16 samskaras :
1. Garbhadhana- gifting the womb :
Garbhadhana (literally,, 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).
2. Punsavana – the quickening of a male child
Not practiced today, this ceremony was performed by the husband for the wife beseeching the birth of a son, primarily as an assurance for the continuance of the family line.
3. Simantonnayana – hair-parting
Not commonly practiced today, this ancient ceremony of parting the hair of the pregnant wife was performed to bring cheer as well as ward off evil spirits.
For details on these three samskaras, visit http://www.hindujagruti.org/hinduism/knowledge/article/which-sanskars-are-vital-for-overcoming-defects-in-foetus.html
4. Jatakarma - Natal rites
During the later days of pregnancy, a woman may have the jatakarma samskara performed. This rite, based on a verse from the Atharva Veda written specifically to assure safe childbirth, was designed to yield blessings for life as well as protection from harm for both mother and child.
The Hindu name-giving rite, namakarana samskara, is one of the essential rites of passage. It is performed in the home or the temple, usually when the child is 11 to 40 days old. The father whispers the infant’s name in his right ear.ear.
6. Nishkramana – first outing
Nishkramana 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.
7. Anna Prasana – First Solid Food
During the anna prasana samskara, solid food is fed to the child for the first time. This is done by the father or the mother in the temple or at home. The choice of food, such as rice, offered to a child at this crucial time of life is said to help forge his or her destiny.
8. Chudakarana – Head-Shaving
Ceremonial head-shaving is usually performed before the end of the third year in the home or temple. The shaven head denotes purity and egolessness and is said to mitigate past life karma.
9. Karnavedha – Ear-Piercing
The ear-piercing ceremony, for both boys and girls, is performed in the temple or the home, generally on the child’s first birthday. Health benefits are said to derive from this ceremony.
10. Vidyarambha – Learning Commencement
The official beginning of the child’s education is performed in the home or temple, during the fourth year,when he or she writes the first letter of the alphabet in a tray filled with uncooked rice.
11.Upanayana – Initiation
The ceremonial presentation of the sacred thread is performed in the temple or home between the ages of 9 and 15, when a boy begins the study of the Vedas. Thereafter,he is considered “twice-born.”
When a boy first shaves his facial hair, this indication that he has come of age is celebrated in the temple or at home with the keshanta samskara. It is a joyous time of gift-giving, yet it is serious as well. Often a vow of brahmacharya (celibacy) is taken at this same time.
13. Ritu Kala
As puberty dawns for a young girl, the ritu kala homeceremony is performed to acknowledge her first menses.New clothing, jewelry and her first sari are given as she joyously and openly joins the young adult community.
14. Samavartana – returning home from the house of the guru
This ceremony marks the end of studentship and indicates formal closure to the brahmacharya period of life. The young person now must choose one of two paths: the grihastha path (family life) or the renunciate path (monastic life).
15. Vivaha – Marriage
The marriage ceremony is performed in a temple or special hall around the sacred homa fire. Lifetime vows and seven steps before God and the Gods consecrate the holy union of husband and wife.
16. Antyesti – Funeral
The funeral ceremony is performed or arranged by the relatives according to local traditions. It includes preparation of the body, cremation, rites of mourning, purification and remembrance.
The Hindu name-giving
rite, namakarana samskara, is one of the
essential rites of passage. It is performed
in the home or the temple, usually when
the child is 11 to 40 days old. The father
whispers the infant’s name in his right ear.ear.