Saṁskāras — Sacraments
A Saṁskāra is a sacrament which means:— “religious ceremony or act regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace”.
The Tantra-vartika (p. 1078) defines Saṁskāra as:--
“those acts and rites that impart suitability or fitness [adhikāra]” and further adds that adhikāra is of two kinds:--
1. The removal of negative mental conditioning (pāpa-kṣaya)
2. The generation of positive qualities through purification of the mind (citta-śuddhi).
The word "Saṁskāra" as "sacrament" means the religious purificatory rites and ceremonies for sanctifying the body, mind and intellect of an individual.
The purpose of life is a gradual training in spiritual-unfoldment. All of life is a ritual and a sacrament and every phase of one's physical evolution should be sanctified for service of the Divine.
By means of the Saṁskāras, the mind is reawakened to the Ultimate Goal in life which is spiritual wisdom and Liberation from the cycle of births and deaths.
For more detailed information please download the PDF Book — HINDU SAMSKARAS from our Publications tab.
There are 10 Major Samskāras
1. Garbha-dana — impregnation
The Garbhadana is known as a Kṣetra Saṁskāra and is only done in a ritual manner in the first act of consummation after marriage. According to the Grhya Sūtras the proper time for performance of this sacrament is from the fourth to the 16th night after menstruation. The later part of this period is preferred and even nights generally are believed to produce boys and odd nights girls. Procreation is the principle purpose of marriage and a compulsory duty enjoined by the Vedas in order to repay the debts to Devas, Rishis and manes.
The gist of the prayers chanted at this time is;—
"May we produce strong and long-lived children as fire is produced by friction; may they be illustrious. May we beget radiant (with spiritual knowledge) and wealthy children. May we donate liberally to the needy and attain moksha. May God make you fit for conception. May the Creator and the Divine Architect give a beautiful form to the child. O Vishnu let her deliver the child at the tenth month. Let no evil harm you. Let your child be free from defects like lameness, deafness etc. May you be a granter of all wishes like the divine Kamadhenu etc."
Usually performed in the 3rd month of pregnancy when the sex of the embryo is determined. The purpose of this sacrament is to pray for the birth of a male child. Those who object to the sexist connotations can regard it as the celebration of the determination of gender.
3. Simantonnayana — protection of the foetus
According to Ayur-Veda the mind begins to develop in the foetus in the fifth month. This sacrament is usually performed during the period between the 5th and 8th months of pregnancy. The ceremony derives its name (Parting-of-the-hair) from the custom of the women to part their hair in the middle of the head. The parting of the hair symbolises the calming of the mind of the mother-to-be, keeping her psychologically cheerful and free of worries.
4. Jāta-karma — birth-ceremony
This ceremony is supposed to be performed before the umbilical cord is cut, but nowadays it is done along with the naming ceremony on the 11th or 12th day after birth. Once the ten day period of ritual impurity has expired.
5. Nāma-karaṇa — Naming-ceremony
This is a simple ceremony done at the end of the Sacrament of Birth in which the child is given a name. The child is usually named after one of the manifestations of God. And in the case of a girl she is named after one of the manifestations of the Mother Goddess. By naming children after the Divine we are assured of countless opportunities for the repetition of the name of God!
6. Anna-prāśana — weaning, first feeding
The child is weaned at the age of six months. Some sweet rice is usually offered to the family deity or to Annapurna Devi and a morsel is fed to the baby with mantras for ensuring health and longevity and protection.
7. Cauḷa — first head-shaving ceremony.
This ceremony of the first shaving of the head for longevity and protection is prescribed for marking the transition from baby to toddler. It can be performed any time from the first year to the fifth year of age.
8. Vidyārambha — Primary Education
This sacrament is performed to mark the beginning of the education. It is performed when the child first goes to school. The child is bathed, dressed in new clothes and fed. Ganeśa and Sarasvati are invoked and worshipped, after facing east the child is taught to write the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet holding a piece of gold — usually a ring — in a plate of rice.
9. Upanayanam — Spiritual Initiation
Apart from marriage this is the most important sacrament in Vedic culture. It is performed in the 8th, 11th or 12th years of age for all the male members of the first three Varṇas. In ancient India there is also mention of this ceremony being done for girls as well but over the centuries with the consolidation of gender roles it gradually became obsolete for girls. Etymologically the word Upanayana means "bringing near" — introducing the boy to the spiritual master and to the most sacred Gāyatrī mantra which is considered to be the greatest of all mantras. The Gāyatrī is the essence of all the Vedas and being initiated into it is called "Brahmopadeśa".
10. Vivāha — Marriage
According to the Vedic vision, life was ideally divided four stages of development known as Aśramas. The first began with the initiation ceremony and was known as the stage of brahmacharya — or life dedicated to learning spiritual truths. Thereafter came the householder (grhasta), the retiree (vanaprastha) and finally the renunciate (sannyāsa).
This is the most important of the saṁskāras and the pivot around which all the others revolve.
If you would like any of these saṁskāras performed please contact one of our members.