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16/18 Sanskaras in Vedic tradition

Sanskars are significant purificatory ‘rites of passage’ to get rid of impurities and empower us with strength, intelligence and spiritual growth.


Sanskars serve the dual purpose of spiritual purification and protection, fostering a harmonious and purposeful life journey through the different stages of life. They also have the power to ward off negative energies.


After much research, I have found upto 18 sanskars. In some scriptures, 'beginning of education' and 'cutting first hair' are included, in some 'Detachment' and 'Sannyasa' are included. I have decided to include all of them as below:


Sanskar

Ceremony

When

1

Garbhadhana

Conception

Before conception

2

Pumsavana

Foetus protection

2/3 months of pregnancy

3

Simantonnayana

Baby Shower

7/8 months of pregnancy

4

Jata karma

Birth rituals

At birth

5

Namakarana

Name giving

11th day after birth

6

Nishkramana

First outing (temple)

4 months 

7

Anna prasana

First foods

6 months

8

Karnavedha

Ear piercing

6 -16 months

9

Mundana

Cutting first hair

1/3/5 years 

10

Vidyarambha

Commencement of education

5 years

11

Upanayana/ Yagnopavit

Sacred thread ceremony (janoi)

8 to 12 years

12

Vedarambha 

Learning of the Vedas

12 years

13

Keshanta 

First shave / periods

13-16 years

14

Samvartan Samskar

Graduation ceremony

21 years 

15

Vivaha

Marriage

25 years

16

Vanprastha

Detachment from active life

50 years

17

Sanyasa

Renunciation

75 years

18

Antyeshti

Cremation ritual

Death



Garbhadan sanskar

1. Garbhadhana Sanskara (Conception):

  • Translation: The act of getting pregnant.

  • Objective: Elevate conception to a sacred act, purifying parents for the well-being of the unborn child.

  • When: Performed by a married couple, involving prayers to Divinity before conception.

  • Purpose: Followed properly, this Sanskara reduces Karmic baggage, fostering a spiritually inclined child with a smoother life journey on Earth. Specific rules and scriptures prescribe auspicious days, dates, and times for conception.

  • Significance: Rooted in Rigveda, it emphasizes prayers for progeny and prosperity, reinforcing the sacred nature of bringing life into the world.


This Sanskar is a prayer for the child. The importance of this Sanskara is that when followed properly, the child is born with minimal to nil Karmic baggage and is spiritually inclined since birth, making his or her journey smooth and easy on Earth. 

There are different days, dates and times prescribed in the scriptures as well, for conceiving a healthy child. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that the conception should be under normal and mutually agreeable circumstances when both the husband and wife are at peace and happy together. 


Do you want to know more and conceive as per the Vedic guidelines above?



2. Pumsavana Sanskara (Protection of the Fetus):

  • Translation: "Protecting the fetus"

  • Objective: Ensure the birth of a healthy baby, irrespective of gender.

  • When: Performed 2 to 3 months into pregnancy.

  • Purpose: Rooted in the Atharva Veda, this Sanskara involves prayers for a healthy baby. The rituals include the husband offering a delicacy to his wife. The prayers seek divine blessings for the quick and healthy formation of all the organs in the baby. The timing aligns with the belief that life is bestowed in the fetus after 45 days of conception.



Srimant / Simmantonayana sanskar / Baby Shower

3. Simmantonayana (Baby Shower):

  • Translation: Parting the hair upwards.

  • Objective: Give rest to the pregnant woman during the last months of pregnancy.

  • When: Performed during the 7th or 8th month of pregnancy.

  • Purpose: Originating from the Yajnavalkya Smriti, this Sanskara symbolizes the husband and family members taking on household chores, allowing the expectant mother to rest. It emphasizes the importance of maternity leave before childbirth. The baby shower aspect involves celebrating the mother, showering her with gifts, and providing a feast. It aims to prevent prenatal depression by creating a positive environment.

Do you want to know more on this ritual? Discover the VedaMama program for the entire procedure


4. Jatakarman (Child Birth):

  • Translation: Childbirth.

  • Objective: Welcome the baby into the world, boost immunity, and ensure family prosperity.

  • When: Usually performed within a week of childbirth.

  • Purpose: The father welcomes the baby by touching honey and ghee to the baby's lips. Scientifically, this is believed to boost the child's immunity and prevent viral infections. The ritual signifies two births: physical birth through the mother and intellectual birth through education. Prayers to the Fire God and Goddess Sarasvati aim for continued prosperity and wisdom. The ritual is a spiritual commitment to the well-being of the family lineage.




Namakarana sanskar

5. Namakarana (Naming the Baby):

  • Translation: Naming the baby.

  • Objective: Solemnize the child as an individual with a socially accepted name.

  • When: Performed on the 11th day after birth or the first new/full moon after birth.

  • Purpose: Originating from the Satapatha Brahmana, this Sanskara involves choosing a name based on astrological considerations, aligning it with the birth chart. The ritual serves as a cleansing ceremony for the baby. The name is crucial, as it influences the child's traits and qualities. Gifts are showered on the parents as they enter parenthood.


6. Nishkarmana (Baby’s First Outing):

  • Translation: Going out or coming forth.

  • Objective: Formally introduce the baby to the outside world.

  • When: Celebrated during the 4th month after birth.

  • Purpose: Originating in Manusmriti, this Sanskara involves taking the baby outside to see the sun, moon, or visiting a temple. It symbolizes the baby's first encounter with the external world. The act of showing familiar forms helps the child feel at home and dispels darkness from their life.


7. Annaprashana (First Foods):

  • Translation: Time to eat.

  • Objective: Introduce the baby to solid food.

  • When: Celebrated around the sixth month or when the baby gets its first teeth.

  • Purpose: Rooted in Sankhyayana Gryhasutra and Manava Gryhasutra, this Sanskara involves feeding the child cooked rice puree, marking the transition to solid food. The ritual emphasizes continued breastfeeding and is often celebrated with a feast for friends and family.


8. Chudakarana (First Haircut):

  • Translation: Cutting the hair of the baby.

  • Objective: Free the child from past life bondages, symbolizing a fresh start.

  • When: Typically performed within the first year after birth or 3rd or 5th year.

  • Purpose: Originating from SanskarMala, this Sanskara involves shaving the baby's head, applying a mixture of curd, milk, and turmeric, and disposing of the hair in a sacred manner. It represents freeing the child from undesirable traits carried over from past lives.


9. Karnavedha (Piercing the Ear Lobes):

  • Translation: Piercing the ear lobes.

  • Objective: Ensure the child hears bliss as they grow up.

  • When: Usually performed within the first year of the child’s birth.

  • Purpose: This minor ritual involves piercing the baby's ears with a gold thread or silver needle. The symbolic act signifies the importance of hearing and speech in the Vedas. It is also believed to commemorate the ornamentation of the child's body and their connection to blissful sounds.

10. Vidyarambha (Commencement to Knowledge):

  • Translation: Beginning of study.

  • Objective: Initiate the child into formal learning.

  • When: Traditionally in the fifth year of the child, but in modern times, initiation into education may start as early as two years old.

  • Purpose: Originating from Samskara Prakasha, this Sanskara involves the child writing a letter in their mother tongue with the help of family members. Typically celebrated on Dussehra, it marks the child's first attempt at formal education. Goddess Sarasvati and Lord Ganesh are worshipped for wisdom and intellect blessings.


11. Upanayana (Sacred thread ceremony):

  • Translation: Leading towards knowledge.

  • Objective: Symbolizes drawing a child towards knowledge.

  • When: In ancient times, for children around eight years old; in modern times, all ages are open to begin school.

  • Purpose: Comparable to Baptism in Christianity, this ceremony marks the child's introduction to spirituality. The Guru accepts and draws the child towards knowledge, initiating their second birth—intellectual birth through the teacher. In Vedic tradition, a person is said to take two births, first physically through their mother and second intellectually through their teacher. This is their second birth. 


12. Vedarambha (Study of the Vedic Scriptures):

  • Objective: Initiate the child into formal Vedic education.

  • Purpose: The child and Guru sit in front of a sacred fire (Yagna), and initiation hymns are recited. The Guru decides when the student is ready for formal Vedic education. Before this initiation, students undergo basic studies in vocabulary, grammar, mathematics, and science.


13. Keshanta or Ritushuddhi (Shaving Facial Hair):

  • Objective: Coming-of-age ceremony for both male and female children.

  • Purpose: Celebrated at puberty or when facial hair grows. Ritushuddhi signifies the onset of menstruation for females. A vow of celibacy (Brahmacharya) is taken, and gifts are given to the children.


14. Samavartana (Graduation):

  • Objective: Marks the end of 12 years of education with the Guru.

  • When: After spending 12 years with the Guru.

  • Purpose: In a ceremonial bath, the child is considered bathed in knowledge. The ceremony includes the Guru Dakshina, where the student asks the Guru for their gift in return for education. The Graduate's Dharma outlines ethical precepts and behavioral guidelines for post-graduation life.



Vivah sanskar

5. Vivaha (Marriage):

  • Translation: Marriage.

  • Objective: Establish a family.

  • Purpose: Wedding rituals include engagement, Kanyadan (giving away of the daughter), Panigrahan (voluntarily holding hands to signify union), and Saptapadi (seven steps with vows before the fire). Post-wedding rites include Grihapravesa, Chaturthikarma, and Nishekam (honeymoon).



16. Vanaprastha Sanskara (Forest Hermitage):

  • Translation: Transition to the Vanaprastha Ashram (Forest Hermitage) at age 50-60.

  • Objective: Completion of Grahastha Dharma (family responsibilities) and entry into the forest hermitage. Withdrawal from worldly affairs and preparation for sannyas.

  • When: Typically performed between the ages of 50 and 60.

  • Purpose: A man disengages from family responsibilities, retires to the forest, and readies himself for sannyas. This marks the third phase of the Ashrama Dharma.

17. Sannyasa (Renunciation):

  • Translation: Renunciation; the last phase of Ashrama Dharma.

  • Objective: Shedding all sense of responsibility and relationships to pursue timeless truth. Living a life of study and meditation, sustained by alms.

  • When: The final 25 years of life.

  • Purpose: Renunciation involves leaving behind worldly attachments and dedicating oneself to the pursuit of Moksha (liberation). The individual renounces family, lives for a higher purpose, and serves God and humanity.


Ashrama Dharma Phases:

  • Brahmacarya Ashrama: First 25 years (Student life)

  • Grihasta Ashrama: Second 25 years (Married life)

  • Vanaprastha Ashrama: Third 25 years (Retired life)

  • Sannyasa Ashrama: Last 25 years (Renounced life)


Significance: Aligned with the four Purusharthas (Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha), the goal is to attain Moksha (freedom form the cycle of birth & death) and live eternally in the Spiritual World with God. The last two phases (Vanaprastha and Sannyasa) involve preparation for Moksha, with Sannyasa being the culmination of a life dedicated to spiritual pursuits and service to humanity. Renunciation signifies a departure from self-centered living to a life devoted to a broader spiritual and humanitarian purpose.


16. Antyeshti (Cremation):

  • Translation: Last rites or cremation.

  • Objective: Final farewell to the deceased.

  • Purpose: The soul is released during this ritual, and the body, made up of the five elements, is returned to those elements. Cremation rites are described in the Rigveda, emphasizing the cyclical nature of life and death. The ceremony includes bathing, chanting, and pyre lighting, followed by post-cremation rituals and rituals for mourners.


Common Elements Across Sanskars

  • Purification: Sanskars purify the body and mind, protecting from negative energies.

  • Celebration and Joy: Each Sanskar involves celebration, bringing joy to the individual and community.

  • Feasting: Feasts are common, symbolizing abundance and communal harmony.

  • Fire Rituals: Fire is a purificatory element present in many Sanskars, symbolizing cleansing energy.

  • Mantras: Specific Vedic mantras are recited, carrying spiritual significance.

  • Guests and Brahmins: Feeding of guests or brahmins signifies hospitality and community participation.


Importance of the Sanskaras in Vedic tradition


These 16/18 Sanskaras form a comprehensive journey from birth to death, encompassing physical, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of life in the Vedic tradition. They provide a roadmap for leading a life aligned with spiritual principles and values.




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