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Jun 24, 2023
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Samskaras

A Samskar is a ritual that refines and elevates us. It nurtures an individual physically, socially, and spiritually. 

Samskaras help fulfill life’s four aims, as per Sanatana Dharma, which are Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. 

Let us briefly look at some of the popular Samskaras in Sanatana Dharma.

 

Garbhaadanam 

Garbha Aadhana is a pre-consummation ritual for couples planning to have a baby. 

It is performed to purify the to-be parents when conceiving a child. This Samskara is effective for purifying and uplifting the unborn child.

 

Pumsavana 

Pumsavana is a ritual for the carrying mother and is usually performed between the second and fourth month of pregnancy. 

Its purpose is to ensure the good health of the fetus and the proper formation of its organs. This ritual also marks the first movement of the fetus in the womb. 

 

Seemanthonayanam 

This is a Prenatal ritual performed to protect the expectant mother and her womb. 

The fetus’s mind starts to develop in the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy. This is when we do this ritual. 

Its purpose is to protect the fetus’s newly forming mind from all negative influences and also to stimulate the development of its intellect.

 

Naamakaranam 

This is a ritual to name a newborn baby with the blessings of elders while chanting some Vedic mantras. This is an important ritual because a name forms an important part of the child’s social identity. 

This samskara should be held on either the 11th or 21st day from the birth of the baby. If it’s not done on these days, then it can be done on an auspicious day of the 3rd month from birth. For this one should consult a pujari or astrologer. 

The ‘nakshatras’ present at the moment of the baby’s birth can also be seen to help one select a name for the baby. 

Naming the child after a Devata, a Saint, a sacred place, or a river, serves as a constant reminder of the values held by them. 

According to Indian scriptures, a boy’s name should have an “even” number of syllables and a girl’s name “odd” number.

 

Annaprashana

Annaprashana is a ritual to mark a child’s progress from liquid to solid food. This ritual is performed because food is the basis for the development of a child’s mind and body. 

The main idea is to make this event a nourishing and auspicious experience for the baby. 

 

Aksharabhyasam 

In Aksharabhyasam, Akshara is the smallest unit of language, which cannot be broken down further, and, Abhyasa means to study. Together, Aksharabhyasam marks the beginning of a child’s education. 

In this ritual, a child writes for the first time with the blessings of Goddess Saraswati and Lord Ganesha. 

Goddess Saraswati is known as the goddess of speech, and the mother of Vedas, and Lord Ganesha is known to be Buddhipriya, someone who is fond of intelligence.

The child begins his education by writing the sacred symbol ॐ (AUM).

Aum is seen as the sound form of God and the first sound which created the entire universe.

 

Upanayanam 

Upanayanam is a child’s initiation into the Vedic way of life. The child is taught the Gayatri Mantra Upasana. Surya namaskar and sandhyavandhan are a part of Gayatri Mantra upasana. 

In this ritual, a sacred thread with three strings is worn. The three strings represent sattva, rajas, and tamas. It reminds the wearer to transcend the bondage of these three qualities of life. 

They also remind the wearer that he owes three debts and must strive to repay them. One of the debts is to the rishis, one to his ancestors, and one to God. 

The three strings are tied together in a knot known as Brahma granthi. It symbolizes the united trinity of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer).

This ritual prepares one to receive the knowledge of the Vedas to establish their spiritual progress.

 

Vivaham 

Vivaham enables a couple to walk together on the right path, fulfill their material needs, establish a family, and eventually aim for liberation. 

It is a ritual to create a resonance and connection between the bride and groom, to prepare them to enter a phase of life called the Grihastha ashram. The Grihastha ashram is a path of responsibility and self-control.

Society at large upholds this ritual because a Grihastha plays an important role in building a stable society. Through marriage, a couple receives love and respect from each other’s families establishing a greater bond between communities.  

 

Shashtipoorthi 

Shashtipoorthi marks the end of sixty years in a person’s life. In these sixty years, the planets Jupiter and Saturn would have completed five and two cycles around the Sun, respectively, and returned back to the positions where they were at the time of this person’s birth. 

This milestone age signifies that a person has crossed over a major threshold to enter the next stage of their life. 

So, this ritual is performed for a person to end their materialistic pursuits and begin the next stage of spiritual fulfillment.

 

Anthyesthi Samskaram 

This ritual is also known as Antima Samskara since it’s the last samskara in the series of samskaras that begin at conception. 

A fetus takes nine months in the mother’s womb to fully develop. In the same way, when a person passes away, their life energy takes time to leave the body, and it leaves in stages. This is when we perform this samskara to help the soul leave peacefully. 

All samskaras until this samskara are focused on the life that we lead in a physical body, whereas this samskara is performed to simplify our transition to the afterlife because, for our soul, the next world is as important as the present one.   

When death occurs, we carry with us the set of thoughts that we are always thinking about. These thoughts lead us to our next life to fulfill the attachment we have with those thoughts. 

The rituals performed after the death of a person are basically:

  • For correctly handling their body after their departure
  • To help the departed soul in their future journey
  • To psychologically assist the grieving family members
  • To satisfy the Pitru devatas, so that they help our ancestors progress in their journey, and  
  • To create a memory for the children in the family to be rooted in their legacy

 

The Various rituals which are a part of this samskara are:

  • Rituals until cremation
  • Sutakam: Upto 12 days after the death of the individual
  • Sahapinda karanam: 12th day ritual. It means merging the soul of the deceased person with the ancestors.
  • Tarpana: Immersing the ashes in water
  • Shradh: Offerings made to the departed soul and the ancestors is called Shradh. The Shradh is offered at various times.
    1. During the first 12 Days from death: They are called dashgatra, nava-shraddh or pret-shraddh rituals.
    2. Shradh offered untill one year or Samvatsarikam: The shraddh that is offered every month is known as masika shraddh. We should do a total of 16 masikas before performing the yearly samvatsarikam. Out of the 16 masikas, 12 masikas are done in the 12 months and 4 special masikas are performed in between. These 4 special masikas are called pakshamu (15th Day), Tripaksham (3rd month), oona shan masika (a few days before 6 months), and oona abdikam (a day before samvatsarikam). Oona in Sanskrit means falling short. Since the ritual is performed 2 to 3 days short of a month, it’s called Oona masikam. The dates for performing these masikas are based on the tithi on which the person has left their body, and not the date as per English calendar. 
    3. After one year: The atma is now eligible to receive the oblations offered in the mahalaya shraddh in the month of Bhadrapada, and the naimittika shraddh, which is offered at pilgrimage places. 
    4. Abdikam: It is also called Taddinam (Tat + Dinam; Tat means Good. Tat Dinam means Good Day). It is to be performed three times every year, till we are alive, once for the father, and once for the mother on their respective tithis of passing away, plus one more shraddh for the father on the day of the Mahalaya paksha. 
  • Every Amavasya: It is said that our ancestors come to our home to receive food and water on Amavasya days. Hence, we offer something known as a “Potthara” to a Brahmin in the name of our ancestors. ‘Potthara’ means dried substances, such as rice, dry vegetables, tamarind, etc.  

 

Why do we Offer Food to Brahmins during Shraddh?

Our scriptures have given us six ways or channels through which we can offer something to the divine beings or to our ancestors. These six channels are:

  • Sun
  • Moon
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Brahmin
  • Cow

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