The 16 Samskārās

The purpose in life is to understand who we really are and fully blossom in love. As human beings, we go through several phases in this journey of life – childhood, education, youth, professional life, marriage, parenthood etc. Almost all cultures and traditions mark and celebrate these stages in the journey of life. Our ancient Vedic tradition identifies sixteen such important events to be marked and celebrated in one’s life – these are called Shodasha Samskrārās.

Samskārās literally mean “impression” and also “to refine or purify”. Life is celebration. Celebration brings everyone together, creates enthusiasm, uplifts the spirit, brings joy and harmony in the society. Samskrārās in the Vedic tradition are celebrated by specific ceremonies which involve rituals, Homās, chanting of mantras, use of specific herbs, fruits, flowers, grains etc., obtaining blessings of elders and family. The Samskārā ceremonies bring positive impressions in the mind, bring fulfillment, success and harmony in every stage of life. Samskārās strengthen the individual, protect the body and mind. The Shodasha Samskārās also have deeper spiritual significance and are best performed by qualified pandits under the guidance of a spiritual master.

Shodasha Samskārās identifies Samskārās – rituals that begin before the birth of the individual and continue till the end of the lifespan. The Samskārās are based on ancient texts – Manu Smriti and Grihya Sutrās. A brief introduction to each of the Samskārās is presented here.

Garbhādhāna

Garbhādhāna literally means “gifting the womb”. This Samskārā is done after the couple is united in holy matrimony. This Samskārā is performed to bring love and harmony between the newlyweds. The husband and wife resolve to treat each other equally with love and mutual respect. The husband honors his new bride as Goddess Lakshmi incarnate. This Samskārā aims to cultivate good conduct, right thinking and living habits. The couple prays to the Divine to bless them with bright, intelligent and beautiful children.

Pumsavana

Children are a gift and bring great joy into our lives. Pumsavana Samskrāra is usually conducted in the third month of pregnancy. This Samskārā is performed to beget a good child.

Seemanthonnayana 

Seemathonnayana is usually performed in the fifth or seventh month of pregnancy. This is similar to baby shower. This ceremony is performed for the health and long life of the mother and the child in the womb of the mother. The vibrations of the mother and surrounding atmosphere are said to influence the child in the womb. There are many stories in the Purānās and Ithihāsa that illustrate this. During this period, it is good for the pregnant woman to be happy, contented and peaceful.Typically relatives pamper the pregnant woman with gifts of sweets, savories and bangles.

Jātakarma

Jātakarma is performed to welcome the newborn child into the world reminding it of its divine nature on this journey of life. The baby is first bathed and cleaned and then fed a small mixture of honey, ghee and gold by the father. The father also whispers a mantra in the child’s right ear reminding it of its divine nature. This Samskārā also seeks the blessings of intelligence, health and long life for the child.

Nāmakarana

Our name is an important part of the identity in this word. In the Vedic tradition names are chosen carefully based on several factors. Nāmakarana is an ancient Vedic ceremony for naming the child and is usually performed on 11th day after birth with poojās, chanting and singing. Five names are chosen for the child – based on the birth star of the child (nakshatranāma), the birth month (māsanāma), family deity (Kuladevata Nāma), popular name (loukika nāma) through which the child is known, and name based on grandparents of the child. All relatives and friends bless the child with long life, intelligence and good life. There is a feast at the end of the Nāmakarana ceremony.

Karnavedha

Wearing earrings is a common practice in many ancient cultures. The ear lobes have an important acupressure point. Neurologists in the west have done research linking the earlobes to two hemispheres of the brain.
Piercing ears is believed to help in developing intelligence and enhancing immunity against respiratory infections. Often in India when prostrating to Lord Ganesha, we gently tug at our ear lobes while doing sit-ups. This ancient practice is now being taught as a very popular yoga technique in the west to enhance intelligence and awareness in children.

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