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Hindu SamskArAs : Part 1

From: V. Sadagopan (
Date: Sat Sep 06 1997 - 07:30:43 PDT

Dear Members of the Bhakthi/Prapatthi group : 

Every religion has its rites and rituals to help
us one along the journey of life . We flutter like
" the candle in the wind " during our stay on this earth 
until we reach the Lord's abode . Hindusism has 
a most beautiful set of FOURTY SAMSKARAS for 
our spiritual welfare from the time of conception to 
the final moment on His LeelA vibuthi . These samskArAs 
form the core of a Hindu"s life . 

These are rites performed to help the human being 
to purify their  body and mind in " seen and unseen
ways ." The seen aspect is the creation of a shining new 
object by removing dirt and grime from a tarnished object
with detergents . The unseen aspect , according to one
AchAryA is that the SamskArAs are like the sanctification 
of the water by "charging" it with the Veda mantrAs for 
punyAvAchanam and Udaka sAnthi rites .  

There is a proper age and time in human life to perform
these samskArAs . If that is followed , it is believed that 
the  efects( benefits ) of the samskArAs are the greatest .
Out of compassion for us , the laggards , our merciful 
sAsthrAs give us " substitute periods ( kaalAs ) " ,
if one misses the appropriate time recommended by 
the SAsthrAs . 

The life of  the Hindu rotates around these series of 
life cycle rituals referred to as SamskArAs . They are rooted in
the eternal VedAs . The minimum number of SamskArAs 
to be observed by men and women vary . Manu , Gautama,
ApasthampA , Yaj~navalkyA and other kalpa sutra kaarAs 
have written extensively on these samskArAs and the proper
procedure to perform them to gain maximum seen and
unseen benefits . Great AchAryAs of Ahobila mutt like 
the 25th , 26th , 27th , 42 nd and the current Jeeyars have
written extensively and have left great ahnika granthAs .
These granthAs are known as SadAchaara NirNayam 
and dwell at great length on the nityA and naimmitthika 
karmAs . I will write about the SamskArAs in this and  
subsequent postings .

According to the Tarka sAsthrAs , the word SamskArA is 
defined as " an impression on the memory " .Steady pracise
of scriptural injunctions establishes firm tracks in the memory 
so that the practitioner does not swerve from the correct path .
According to another defenition , SamskArA means " betterment "
( Sams ) of a thing ( kaaram ) . The cleansing process set in motion 
by the observance of SamskArAs leads to the betterment 
of life and qualifies a person for spiritual upliftment .


The practise of SamskArAs develop eight auspicious 
guNAs ( attributes ) that help to remove the samsAric ills
caused by the sensory attachments . Since these guNAs 
have an impact on the soul , they are described as
 Aathma GuNAs . A steady practise of the samskArAs leading to 
the acquisition of the aathma guNAs helps a person to 
attain the state of akhanda aathma anubhavam , the 
supreme experience exemplified by the tenets of 
Sri VisishTaadvaitham that celebrates the " Oneness" 
of the supreme being ( brahman ) , who is qualified by 
" the gross and subtle forms of the sentient and insentient
entities , at the two states of manifestation and dissolution
of the universe " . The akhandAthama anubhavam 
extolled by AzhwArs and AcharyAs in their granthams 
is the elaboration oft he concept that " the Lord is the soul 
and that the  world of men and matter constitutes His body " .


The names of the eight aathma guNAs are worthy of
being commented upon especially at this time , when we
went through some difficult times : 

1. DAYAA or univeral compassion and love for all living beings
2. KSHAANTHI or tolerance of ill-wishers
3. ANUSUYAI or freedom from jealousy or rancour
4.SAUCHAM or body cleanliness
5. ANAAYASAM or relaxed state characterized by EASE IN 
6. MANGALAM or inner happiness radiating as harmonious 
7 . AKAARPANYAM or generosity of spirit and time 
8 . ASPRUHAM or detached state of mind arising from a 
     dispassionate nature 


The samskArAs cover the life span of a Hindu rom the time
of formation (conception ) of the embryo (nishEkam ) to
the time of cremation in the burning ghaat (smasaanam ) . 
Agni is an indispensable part of the samskArAs that cover 
the entire span of on's life . Agni is therefore saluted as a
witness to the samskArAs . Even cremation is considered 
as an offering of the ghee-smeared body to Agni as the
ultimate offering .


Some of the samskArAs are not time consuming ,
whereas the others are elaborate and require continous
performance over many days . Some of the samskArAs are
done at home , whereas the others need a spacious site 
as well as extensive time for the collection of the rquired utensils 
representing the body of Yaj~na VarAha Murthy , ingredients
( saamagris ) and helpers ( rthviks ) . 

A number of samskArAs --OupAsanA , AgnihOthrA and 
the pancha MahA Yaj~nAs -- have to be performed daily .
Two other samskArAs -- Darsa PoorNa Maasa and SthAlipAkA --
have to be practised twice a month . ParvaNi srArdhA has to be
conducted once a month . Rest of the samskArAs have to be 
performed once a year or atleast once in one's life time . 


The fourty samskaaraas can be split into the following 
six categories :

1. a set of seven starting from GarbhadhAnA to Chudakramaa
2. Another set of seven starting from UpanayanA to VivAhA 
3. A group of five Yaj~nAs known as Pancha MahA Yaj~nAs
4. A set of seven Paka Yaj~nAs
5. A group of seven Havir Yaj~nAs
6. Another group of seven Soma Yaj~nAs 


All the seven samskArAs prior to Upanayanaa are
performed by the parents on behalf of the child , since
it has not reached the stage of discriminating knowledge .
These are :

A . GARBHADHAANAM : The placement of the seed by the husband in 
the wife's womb is known as GarbhAdhAnam .From the moment 
the embryo forms , the life cycle rituals of the Hindu begins . The married
couple have to conceive in a state of mind tamed and purified 
by the Vedic rites of Saanthi KalyANam . This way , they can
conceive a child with auspicious qualities . The " Jaayamaana 
KatAksham " of Sriman NaarAyaNaa helps towards the birth 
of great devotees such as DhruvA . In his outstanding 
Sri Desika Darsana PanchAngam released by Sri SevA
SwamigaL , he points out that the days , when the following
stars are inascendance are auspicious for garbhAdhAnam :
Asvini , UtthirAdam , Satayam , Uttaram , Hastham ,
Chitthirai and  SvAthi .

B. PUMSAVANA SAMSKAARAA : This is to be performed 
during the third month of pregnancy , which is much before 
quickening of the growth of the embryo .


This samskArA (hair parting of the pregnant mother)
has to be performed either in the sixth month or in
the eighth month of pregnancy . One should not combine
the Pumsavana wiht the SimanthOnayana samskaaram ,
as is being done these days . These samskArAs are
abandoned these days . These two are purificatory rites 
sanctioned by the VedAs for the proper growth of the fetus
inside the womb of the mother . Therefore , these samskArAs
should not be abandoned .


This is performed soon after the child's birth. The tongue of
the newly -born is touched thrice with ghee to the accompaniment of 
appropriate Vedic manthrAs seeking protection and long life
for the newly born .

This fifth samskArA dals with the naming of the child on its 
eleventh day of its birth ( vide : PeriyAzhwAr's celebration
of Sri KrishNA's NaamakaraNam in his Thirumozhi ) .
There are strict rules in choosing the name for the newly
born based on the constellation at the time of birth or the time
of the day , when the child is born . As PeriyAzhwAr has instructed us ,
auspicious names associated with Sriman NaarAyaNA and
MahA Lakshmi or great AchAryAs should be chosen for the baby
with the lessons learned from AjaamiLOpAkhyANam .


This deals with the feeding of the baby for the first time
with solid food at the age of six months . This samskArA is 
performed generally at the local temple .The parents recite
manthrAs , while they feed the child . It is a beautiful sight 
to observe this ritual at GuruvAyoor temple .

The last of the pre-upanayana samskArA is chuda Karmaa
for a male child , when a tuft or sikhA is created . The sikhA
is created with the samkalpA to the Lord and hence , should 
not be removed impulsively or with abandon . The purpose of 
the SikhA is to protect the most sensitive nerve center on the top
of the head known as Brahma ranthram from any abnormal 
vibrations . SikhA will also qualify the BrahmachAri or celibiate
for the prformance of Vedic rites such as SamidhAdhAnA or 
the offering of palaasa twigs to the fire as apart of the daily
observance . 

The householder has to ring his sikhA after his bath every day to offer
sikhOdhakA or the water from his tuft to his pithrus or ancestors.
Without the sikhA , no water from the tuft can be offered . In the Hindu
of life , only the sanyAsi has no sikhA , since he has to shave 
his hair at the time of his entering sanyAsAsramam . This is allowed
for this asramamam  , since the sanyAsi  is free from 
the observance of offerings for his ancestors .

( To be continued ) : Upanayanaa to VivAham