Samskaras By

Nannilam Rajagopala Ganapatigal

  "Samskaras" mean sacraments.   According to Max Mueller," the prescription of these ceremonies reflect the deep rooted tendency in the heart of man to bring the chief events of human life into contact with a higher power, and to give to our joys and suffering a deeper significance and a religious sanctification." Samskaras are rooted in the Rig-Veda, although the Atharva-veda is rich in mantras relating to marriage and funeral ceremonies. The objective of the Samskaras, are several. The removal of evil spirits, invoking blessings from gods for material gains, longevity and good progeny, are a few of these. The common thread holding all Samskaras is the worship of Agni (fire God) and Varuna (rain God) and the sprinkling or sipping of the holy water to wash away evil spirits and impurities. Different Mantras are chanted and different gods are worshipped depending upon the ceremony.

The Dharma sutras being mostly occupied with the Hindu laws and custom, not all of them care to describe or enumerate the Samskáras. They contain rules about the Upanayana. Vivăha, Upakarma, Utsarjana, Anadhyâyas and Asaucha. The Gautama -Dharmasutra gives a list of altogether forty Samskăras with eight virtues of the soul (Chatvărimsat samskarah, Astau Atmagunah)

Samskaras are forty eight in number. The prominent are

1) Garbhadaana

 Pre natal ceremony

2) Pumsuvana.

 Pre-birth rituals This ceremony is performed in the second, third and the fourth month of pregnancy

3) Seemantham. 

 This is performed during the period between the fifth and the eighth months of pregnancy

4) Jatha -karma

 This ceremony should be performed immediately after the child is born................

5) Nama karanam

This is a simple ceremony in which the child is given a name.10th or 12th day after birth.

6) Anna-Prasanam

This is the ceremony for the First feeding of cooked rice to child, at 6 months.

7) Chooda karma.

First tonsure for male child, at three years of age.

8) Upanayanam 

Thread giving ceremony, performed in the 8th,11th or 12th year of male child calculated from the conception date, when   the Guru teaches the’ Gayatri mantra’. Thereafter the child is empowered to study the Vedas and participate in Vedic functions.   

(9 to12) Veda Vrathas

Four Veda vrathas.1.Prajapatya 2.Sowmya 3.Agneya 4.Vaishvadeva Performed After   Completed Vedic Education

13) Samavarthanam (snanam) 

(When studies are completed)

14) Marriage (Vivaham). 

Vivaha means support to sustain. Sustain Dharma. Solemnized, with Agni as the     witness. The marriage is complete when the couple take seven steps together (Saptapadi).

15 to 19  Pancha Maha Yagya

1) Deva Ygya  2) Pithru Yagya  3) Bhuutha Yagaya  4) Manushya Yagaya  5) Brahma Yagaya

20 to 26 Saptha Paka Yagyas

1) Ashtaka, 2) Parvana Sthaleepaka, 3) Masi Sradha, 4) sravanee. 5) Aagrahaayanee,

 6) Chaithree, 7) Aaswayujee.

27 to 33 Saptha Havir Yagyas

1) Agni Aadheyam, 2) Agni Hothram 3) Darsa Purna maasam 4) Chathurmasyam,

5) Aagrayanam, 6) Niruuda Pasubandham, 7) Southramanee.

34 to 40 Saptha Soma Yagyas

1) Agnishtoomam, 2) Athyagnishtoomam, 3) Ukthyam, 4) Shoodasee, 5)Vajapeyam,

6) Athirathram, 7) Apthooryaamam.

40 to 48  Athma Gunas

Grihastha Asrama

(Sacraments relating to house-holders.)


 (Renouncing the house-holder's life)

Sanyasa Ashrama.

 (Leading the life of a monk)


Funeral  Samskaras performed at death, by the oldest son, help the parent attain peace in the next world. Cremation by fire is the rule. A  touching Mantra says “ May the organ of vision go to the Sun; may the Prana (soul) merge in the atmosphere; may you go to a virtuous place. “.  

Objects Samskaras (Sacraments) are rituals and sacrifices. By virtue of their performances the life of the performer receives a higher sanctity. Samskaras cover the entire life of a Hindu from the moment he is conceived in the mother’s womb till his death- inclusive of his funeral ceremonies and thereafter, for the smooth passage of his soul to another world. Just as gold and diamonds that are dug out from the ore need refining and polishing in order to shine in all their splendor, man too needs these Samskaras or purify cattery ceremonies in order to shine in his best form physically, psychically and spiritually.

There are several objects of the Samskaras, as can be seen from the Mantras and symbolism used in the ceremonies. These can be broadly divided into two categories; to invoke beneficence from the kindly gods and to keep away or remove hostile or evil powers that beset human life at various stages. Samskaras aim in the first instance at material gain to the individual. During some ceremonies prayers are offered to gods for health, wealth, children, intellect etc., which contribute to domestic and social felicity.

 Samskaras mirror self-expression of joys and sorrows, hopes and ambitions, which man exhibits in a dignified way when he celebrates these functions with feasts, presents, decoration, music and also in funeral ceremonies in an appropriate mood.

 Samskaras also create an awareness of the attainment of social status and privileges for the individual. The boy who is given the sacred thread acquires the right to study the Vedas;

the married man gains the title to perform the Dharmas mentioned in the Vedas.Samskaras bring about cultural gains. The ancient lawgivers underscored the introduction of higher religion and sanctity in the lives of those who undergo Samskaras.

 Some impurity is inherently attached to the pre-natal stage of birth and Manu and Yajnavalkya see in the Samskara ceremonies, the removal of those impurities, so that man’s body is made fit to become a temple for God to reside.

Samskaras are molders of character. Sage Angiras poetically refers to the development of personality that the Samskaras endow on its adherents: "Just as a picture is painted with various colours,

so the character of the individual is formed by the proper performance of the Samskaras."Sage Gautama said that Samskaras along with the eight Atma-gunas take one to Brahman (Supreme Self) or Moksha.In short, the whole gamut of Samskaras is designed to channel the entire energies of man towards the creation of a perfect secular as well as spiritual life in himself in a manner that is not only ingenious but essentially practical, dignified and compulsory in the interest of all-round human welfare. To quote Max Muller, the emphasis placed upon these ceremonies by the ancients disclose "the deep-rooted tendency in the heart of man to bring the chief events of human life into contact with a higher power, and to give to our joys and sufferings a deeper significance and a religious sanctification.

BY Rajagopala Ganapatigal

© 2019 Copyright Subhakariam. All rights reserved.