HINDU SAMSKAARAS (SACRAMENTS)
Discourse by N.R. Srinivasan
Most societies, all over the world, perform religious, cultural and social ceremonies to validate the growth of an individual. Human growth is a continuous process, passing through important landmarks in life—birth, infancy, childhood, youth, adolescence, old age and death. Certain periods in an individual's development are significantly noticeable. It is during these periods significant changes take place physically, emotionally and cognitively. Hindu scriptures prescribe stage-wise religious sacraments called "Samskaaras" to be performed at various stages of individual's life. In Sanskrit language Samskaara means well making (Sam=well; kaara=making). Samskaara therefore means that which removes the impurities from an object, take away all the bad or evil elements and imparts good qualities. In Hinduism it signifies a religious ceremony during the growth period of an individual from birth to death.
Hindu migrants are drawn from different regional and socio-economic back-grounds differing in their practice of religion. As we all know Hinduism is not strictly a religion and it is a way-of-life one leads, though they all call themselves as Hindus. Yet there is a common cultural and spiritual bond amongst all Hindus and they all believe and practice certain basic Samskaaras. Hindu culture places great emphasis on mutual expectations and duties rather than individual rights and responsibilities. Hindu Samskaaras focus on these values. Samskaara marks important turning point in the life of every individual. They foster one's growth not only as an individual but also as a member of one's family, community, society and in the broader sense the world at large.
In the early Vedic culture, which was more sacrifice oriented (yajnas) there were forty sacraments in vogue. Vedic domestic rituals called Kalpa Sootras, Grihya Sootras and Srauta Sootras belong to different Vedas. They give an accurate picture of the social life, popular customs and usages in ancient India. Hindu sages prescribed 40 ceremonial sacraments for different categories of people, who follow Sanatana Dharma as follows:
1. Garbhaadaana, 2. Pumsavana, 3. Seemantha, 4. Jaatakarma, 5. Naamakarana, 6. Annapraasana, 7. Chowla, 8. Upanyana, 9. Praajaapatya, 10. Saumya, 11. Aagneya, 12. Vaiswadeva, 13. Samaavartana, 14. Vivaaha, 15. Deva Yajna, 16. Pitr-Yajna, 17. Manushya Yajna, 18. Bhoota Yajna, 19. Brahma Yajna, 20. Anvashtaka, 21. Paarvana, 22. Sthaleepaaka, 23. Aagrahaayani, 24. Sraavani, 25. Chaitri, 26. Aasvayuji, 27. Agniyaadhaana, 28. Agnihoetra, 29. Darsa-poornamaasa, 30. Aagrayana, 31. Chaaturmaasya, 32. Niroodhapasubandha, 33. Sautraamani, 34. Agnishtoema, 35. Atyagnishtoema, 36. Uktya, 37. Shoedasi, 38. Vaajapeya, 39. Atiraatra and 40. Aptoryaama. They contain 14 ceremonial sacraments, 5 Pancha Mahaa Yajnas, 7 Paaka Yajnas, 7 Havir Yajnas and 7 Soma Yajnas.
Out of the forty some are to be performed every day, some at certain times and some at least once in a life time. In the first category are Pancha Maha Yajnas. People follow different vocations doing different jobs and with different mental qualities in keeping with them. In conformity with these differences and dissimilarities sages assigned the Samskaaras also differently to different people. It is therefore not obligatory to go through all these 40 sacraments by every Hindu.
Towards the medieval Vedic period, sacrificial approach was slowly taken over by Bhaktimaarga or devotional form of worship due to the influence of great philosophers and sages like Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, Nimbalkar, Chaitanya Maha Prabhu and others. In keeping with this devotional form of worship, Samskaaras also got confined to 16 sacaraments. Many of these Samskaaras too contain in them fire sacrifices called Homa and Yajna. They invariably include Punyaaha Vachana, declaration by the priests (Brahmins) present at a function that the ritual performed will prove to be auspicious and Udakashanti, purification by sanctified water. They also include Naandi Sraaddha, a sacrament seeking the blessings of the ancestors. The ceremonious functions of Chowla, Upanayana, and Vivaaha also include Paalika ceremony. It is customary to germinate seeds by auspicious ladies and offer the sprouts to the five deities, Brahma, Indra, yama, Varuna and Soma. The grain seeds used are rice, black gram, green gram, sesame and mustard. The seeds are soaked in milk and germinated in sand filled pots. This offering is made to the specific deities for the protection of the individuals or the family for whom the function is performed. They are immersed in a river or pond after the fourth day of the ritual. They derive their name Panchpaalika from the five deities, meaning five protectors. The 16 Samskaaras are:
- Garbhaadhaana—sacrament to guarantee conception.
- Pumsavana—sacrament to protect the fetus and to have a boy.
- Seemanta or Seemantonnayana—sacrament done on the eighth month of pregnancy for the proper mental formation of the child.
- Jaatakarma—birth sacrament involving the preparation of horoscope (astrological chart) of the child.
- Naamakarana—sacrament of naming the child. This ceremony is performed in the home, usually when the child is eleven to forty days old.
- Nishkramana—sacrament of taking the child for the first time to outside world.
- Annapraasana—first feeding of solid food (rice), usually done in front of the god in a temple.
- Choodaakarana or Chowla—sacrament of first cutting/mundan of hair and wear a Sikha or Choti.
- Karnavedha—Sacrament of piercing the earlobes of the child for putting the jewelry.
- Vidyaarambha—sacrament to make the child write and learn the alphabets and initiation to secular studies (Aparavidya)
- Upanayana—Sacrament of wearing the holy thread by which one becomes a Dwija or "twice born", performed when the boy is between the ages of eight to sixteen.
- Vedaarambha—Sacrament to start the Vedic Studies under a Guru and initiation to Paravidya (Knowledge of the Supreme).
- Keshaanta—Sacrament for shaving the beard or the head during the Vedic study/
- Samaavartana or Snaana--Convocation ceremony after the Completion of Vedic studies and sacrament for home-coming.
16. Anthyeshti—Cremation or Funeral Ceremony
We often mistakenly think that sacraments like Pumsavana, Seemantha are meant for the mother. Actually they are for the life taking shape in her womb, the fetus, and are meant to be purified. Now-a-days we have ceased to chant the Vedas and practice Vedic Rites. So, we do not wear the Sikha or Choti also. However Upanayana Ceremony amongst upper castes is celebrated with all fanfare inviting large crowds of friends and relatives, indicative of their caste or birth supremacy. Practically no attention is given to Paravidya, the true knowledge. So, some of the Sacraments have lost their significance and are on the way out. Strangely enough some newer Sacraments have appeared on the scene; some other age-long sacraments are still practiced though not included in the above 16 sacraments. These prescribed religious rituals are: 1) the post funeral honoring of the departed (Shraaddha ceremony); 2) Building a new home as per Vaastu Saastra; 3) Entering a new home (Grihapravesha); 4) Spiritual Initiation (Sanyaasaasrama); 5) The attainment of Puberty; 6) Teertha Yaatra; 7) Gayaa Shraaddha; 8)Sacraments for 60th, 70th and 80th Birthdays (Shashti-abda Poorti Shanti, Bhima Ratha Shanti, Sahasrachandra Darsana, Kanakaabhishekha Shanti, Shataabdi Shanti) and others.
As mentioned above to-day due to changed times and altered life-styles of Hindus, not all the Samskaaras mentioned above are strictly followed. Under special circumstances such lapses are condoned by Hindu religious texts. For instance, the scriptures say that a Hindu need not strictly observe the scriptural injunctions and prohibitions in a foreign land if circumstances are not conducive to such an observance. No hard and fast rules of Samskaaras existed during the Vedic period. Mantras now used in rituals of marriage, conception, and funeral can be found in Rigveda, Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad etc. besides those generally recited during all rituals like Purusha Sookta. Atharva veda is a rich source of mantras relating to many sacraments. They were later developed, amplified and codified in Kalpa sootra and others.
Hindus settled in foreign lands are also trying to solemnize certain events which are observed as special days to honor special events or persons. Hindu Temples try to solemnize Mother's Day dedicating it to Goddess Lakshmi, Graduation Day (completion of High School Studies) dedicated to Goddess Sarasvati, Gurupoornima Day, the Birthday of Vedavyaasa, dedicated to teachers. They also solemnize the possession of first vehicle dedicating it to Viswakarma. In India too Children's Day is celebrated on Nehru's Birthday, Teacher's Day on Radhakrishna's Birrthday and Martyr's Day on Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday. The birthday of great saints are also celebrated all over India— Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Shirdi Saibaba, Raghavendra and others. Thus while some age-old sacraments are fading out new sacraments are springing up in India and abroad where Hindus are settled. Special worships in temples and nationwide celebrations are planned on these occasions. Thus the continuous changes that are taking place in the Hindu way-of-life with the passage of time, change of place and situations can be seen as the proof of the accommodative spirit of Hinduism within the frame work of Sanaatana dharma, The Eternal Tradition.
Hindu Panchangas (almanacs) indicate good dates for conducting Garbhadhaana, Pumsavana, Seemantha, Jaatakarma, Taara Shanti ( ceremony to ward off evil influence of bad birth star), Naamakarana, Cradle ceremony for the baby, Karnavedha, Annapraasana, Chowla, Aksharaabhyaasa, Aayushkarma (ritual for longevity), Upanayana, Vidhyaarambha, Vivaaha, Bringing Bride Home, Buying Land, Ground Breaking Ceremony, Tilling the soil (Ploughing) ceremony, Buying Cattle, Sowing Seeds, Grihapravesa (ritual for entering a new house) etc.
- Garbhaadhaana—in Hindu way-of-life sexual intimacy between couples is considered a sacred responsibility. The son is called "Putra" in Sanskrit meaning one who saves the soul from hell by performing obeisance. It is believed that couple should think of their favorite gods and goddesses and seek their blessings in order to be blessed with good children. The sexual union of man and the wife is sanctified by mantras in the ceremony, with the purpose, the well being of the life coming to this world by their union. Now-a-days people omit to perform this ceremony, since they feel such religious rites are awkward, which is not right. This rite sets the stage for having a child who is desired, welcomed and accepted as a blessing of the Lord. The couples proclaim their love and commitment to each other and acknowledge their desire for progeny with the blessings of the Lord. In Hindu way-of life children are symbolic of the river of life. Therefore every step of conception, rearing the child within the womb, child birth and other aspects are given specific importance.
- Pumsavana—when parents decide to have a child, this Vedic Rite is performed in the third month when pregnancy becomes visible or confirmed. Usually they pray for a male child as the first born. It is believed that son is the one who saves the souls of his parents from going to hell. Hence, it is desired to have a male child first. Even from the scientific point of view husband carries both X and Y chromosomes. At the time of conception if a sperm carrying X chromosomes meets the ovum it is fertilized as girl. If the sperm carrying Y chromosomes meets the ovum a boy is born. Therefore, the deciding factor is the male sperm, which fertilizes the ovum and the sex is determined immediately after conception. Thus the male supremacy is established from both scientific and spiritual thinking. However Manu says both son and daughter should enjoy the same status in social life. In Hindu culture the eldest son has the responsibility of performing all rituals and duties connected to one's parents and forefathers. The reason for wanting to have a male child is to continue one's family lineage. The Mantras for this sacrament freely rendered are as follows: "May God Easana fulfill our wishes; May Dhaata bless the world with children and wealth; May he bless this household too with children; May the immortals live in this house. May Agnideva (Fire God) bless me with sons; May Indra (King of devas) bless me with children; May I have handsome children".
- Seemantonnayana or Seemantha— this ceremony derives its name from the parting of the hair of the pregnant lady during the ceremony. This prenatal Vedic sacrament is performed during the sixth or eight month of pregnancy with the purpose to ensure a happy, healthy child and motivate the mother to have pleasant positive thoughts, a sort of psychological treatment. This is done only for the first child birth. For the mother it is a profound experience to be bearing an individual, who is at once a part of her and part of her husband, symbolically attached to her; the child will separate from her shortly to become an individual in the outside world. During this ceremony, besides the Vedic rituals, many other social customs are followed to maintain the mother's healthy physical condition. It is also an occasion to celebrate while the husband is preparing for the role of fatherhood. Husband and wife therefore pray to the Lord reaffirming their support and care for each other as per the promises made during the wedding ceremony. Raaka, presiding deity of full moon, is invoked during this ceremony to make the pregnancy fruitful; make the child birth fruitful; and make the child beautiful like the full moon. Mantra chanted during this ceremony essentially means: "I invoke goddess Raaka to bless the occasion. May she bless the ceremony! May my son be of sharp intellect! ". Elderly ladies present also sing wishing the pregnant lady to be mother of heroic sons. The mother fasts and also keeps silence after the ceremony till the rise of stars and moon and at the close of the ceremony touches a male calf, symbolizing the wish for a son. Living in a different culture, Hindus feel the delicacy to perform rites like Garbhaadhaana, Pumsavana and Seemantha publicly. However such ceremonies can be gone through within the four walls of the home limiting it to be a private family function without inviting a crowd. The high principles involved in such rituals should be realized whose intentions are for the well-being of the life to come, and therefore the ceremony performed is done to seek the blessings of the Lord.
- Jaatakarma—Hindus celebrate the birth of a child as a religious ceremony of prayer and gratitude to the Almighty for the miracle birth and safe delivery. It is an occasion to pray for child's good health, strength and intellectual growth. Birth of a child is a well recognized ceremony in all societies and cultures and therefore Jaatakarma takes the lead as the first public function. This function is celebrated with gifts and charity, thereby seeking everyone's good wishes. It is also customary to prepare the horoscope of the child and prepare the astrological chart with the help of an expert in Jyotisha saastra.
- Naamakarana--the importance of naming ceremony can be well summarized by the following verse of Brihaspati, the mythical Guru of the Hindus: "Indeed all transactions in the world take place through name; name is the cause for auspiciousness in all actions. Through name alone a person gains fame; therefore indeed the naming ceremony is praise-worthy". In the Hindu tradition, naming of a child is not a mere legal formality or a secular social function.
Naamakarana is usually done after eleventh day after birth. The child is made to lick honey, then gently talked to and made to suck, seeking the blessings that the child may be brilliant and glorious like Sun. The child is then made to touch the ground to devotionally surrender to Hindu culture or Dharma. The name of the child is then announced and all the relatives and friends bless the child with good health, happiness and good life. When a woman is blessed with a son, it is also customary for the child's maternal uncle (Maama) and maternal Grand-father (Naana) to present clothes, ornaments and other things to the baby, its parents and close relatives. This custom is celebrated as 'Chhochak' ceremony. It is usually performed along with the Naamakarana ceremony. In many families, this ceremony is performed even when a daughter is born. Manu says: "Just as soul and son are alike, so are a son and daughter equal".
- Nishkramana—this is the child's first outing which is ceremoniously celebrated. At the end of the second month there are shifts in the child's perception. The child starts to make connection with the world starting with its mother. The child becomes more aware of the world apart from itself and interacts with its parents. The child at this stage is taken out of the house, exposed to the Sun and Moon deities, the luminaries that preside over day and night. The Sun, Moon and Agni (fire) are all shining because of the Lord. His light is manifold compared to these luminaries. Invoking the Lord in this visible form of deities the parents pray for the child's protection always. Atharva Veda says: "Oh child! At the Nishkramana ceremony may the earth and the world shower welfare and benevolence upon you! May the Sun shine bright upon you! May your chest be filled with fresh life giving air! May the divine waters of Ganga and Yamuna quench your thirst! ". Since the human body of the child is made up of five elements it is customary for the father to normally seek blessings of deities controlling these elements.
- Annapraasana--when the child is six to seven months old teething begins. Then the child's digestive system is ready to accept solid food and the child is ready for this sacrament. An infant lives on mother's breast milk for six months. Then after, the child's diet needs to be supplemented with solid foods. The process of changing over the dependency on mother's milk to solid food is known as weaning. After the weaning period the child's dependence on mother is lessened. If the breast feeding continues beyond six months the child becomes only demanding and dependent and weaning becomes more difficult. In Hindu religious tradition, Annaapraasana is a significant event. In Hindu concept food is always considered as Prasaada, blessed food, as the food is always offered to the family deity before eating. The first morsel of food the child eats is the first Prasaada of the Lord the child enjoys. Therefore, the food is ceremoniously prepared and offered to the Lord before feeding the child. The Lord is invoked in the form of deities presiding over knowledge and vigor while offering the food.
- Choodaakarana or Chowla or Mundan—this is a ceremony in which the hair on the child's head is cut. In a male child, a tuft called "Shikha" or "Choti" is also kept. This ceremony is generally performed by the end of the third year. In Vedic culture, hair symbolizes binding desires. When old hair is shed, new ones take their place. Similarly one's binding desires which are countless, keep growing and when fulfilled, get replaced by new ones. The hair that is shaved is offered to the Lord, symbolizing surrendering one's countless binding desires. Both parents pray for the child's longevity, intelligence and success. Sikha or tuft is usually kept by all Vedic scholars, which is essential to conduct all auspicious rituals. Sikha or tuft is removed only at the initiation ceremony to Sanyaasaasrama (entering into an ascetic or monk's life). At the time of conducting religious rites, Hindus tie their Sikha with a knot symbolizing that they take a vow to tie down all their binding desires. The head houses the brain and pituitary glands that control not only the whole body, but also thoughts, feelings and emotions that guide us through life. It is believed that the roots of the hair forming Shikha (Choti, Kudumi, Juttu) go down to the control centers in the brain. This is the seat of wisdom and thoughtfulness. Externally this place is marked by a Sikha. Even virtuous actions become demonical without a Sikha, says Vedavyaasa. It is believed that when Sikha is tied with a knot at the time of prayers the energy generated within the mind is not lost. With no loss of energy there is better cultivation of mental faculties, wisdom and noble thoughts.
Hair on the child's head sprung in the wombs of the mother. It is therefore believed it is also endowed with bad influences which are not good for child's development. Therefore this ceremony is considered important. Removal of the hair on the child's head for the first time aims at development of the mind, mental capabilities, good health, charm and long life. Yajurveda mentions about the same. Shikha is a tuft of hair at the back of head specifically kept by Vaishnavas and Brahmanas. According to the Vedic culture, when a person undergoes the cuda-karana-samskara (hair-cutting ceremony) and upanayana (Vedic initiation), he must shave his head, leaving a tuft of hair called a sikha.It is an established rule that anyone who recites Vedic mantras should not have hair on face and head. So, those who need to perform Vedic rituals are advised to remove their hair.Our human body has seven energy centres, or chakras, starting from the first at the base of the spine (Mooladhara Chakra) to the seventh and last one – the Sahasrara Chakra. The kundalini is the snake like subtle energy lying coiled at the base chakra, which through yogic exercise can be made to uncoil and rise up through the chakras, finally to the top one, the Sahasrara. The master, one who has achieved the final goal, or enlightenment or perfection or union, is one wherein the kundalini would have reached the Sahasrara chakra.A Brahmin is one who after all his interim intellectual pursuits, is in ultimate search of this final union or state of perfection. At this point he is said to be one with the Brahman. This is the Brahmin’s final goal. The shika covers that part of the skull wherein lies the final chakra – the Shasrara Chakra. He retains the hair to protect it. Then the question would arise, why shave of the rest of his head?One of the main rituals of the Brahmin’s practice is the Surya Vandana, and Sandya Vandana. It is believed that the sun is the primary source of clean energy not just to the physique, but also to the mind. He wants the uninterrupted rays of the sun to fall on his brain and soak in. (Remember, hair, like our nails, is dead matter.) He stands in the sun three times a day to pray, chant his mantras and meditate – facing the sun. However, there are many reasons for having Shikha: !1)When a devotee leaves his body Krishna pulls the soul from the top most chakra which is on the head under the shikha. 2. It is said that according to the karma of a soul, the living entity at the time of death leaves the body from different places, from mouth, nose, etc… But a devotee who leaves this body from that chakra (sahasrara at the shikha) attains high planets of the Spiritual world.
- 3. Also hair is needed to protect that chakra. Women do not cut their hair, because their other lower chakras are not protected well, but if they have long hair they protect them with their hair.
4. Shikha is also like a spiritual antenna on the top of the head meant to show to the Lord and that we are aspiring recipients of His causeless mercy.5. One must have a sikha to perform any kind of yajna. Therefore in Indian tradition all the Brahmanas, Vaisnava or otherwise, keep a sikha. Although there seem to be no sastric injunctions regarding the size of the sikha, Gaudiya Vaisnavas traditionally keep the sikha about the size of a calf’s hoofprint, approximately 1.5 inches (5 – 6 cm.) in diameter.6. Srila Prabhupada mentioned this in a conversation with some of his disciples in Hawaii (6.5.1972): “Gaudiya Vaishnava shikha is an inch and a half across — no bigger. Bigger shikha means another sampradaya…. And they have to be knotted.”7. The shikha may be any length, but it should be kept tightly knotted and only untied when you are washing, The Hari Bhakti Vilasa observes that members of the upper classes even tie the sikha before taking the final ablutions of a bath. This particularly applies when bathing in a body of water such as a river or a lake, in which case to not tie the shikha prior to bathing is considered low class and disrespectful to the sacred rite of bathing.You may tie it in a simple manner for bathing, retying it more carefully after the bath. Also, when going to sleep, attending funeral rites, or observing a period of mourning, you should keep the shikha untied. Since an untied shikha is a sign of a death in the family, it is inauspicious to go about one’s daily duties with an untied shikha. It is also said that if one keeps the shikha untied, the body may become weak.While tying your sikha after bathing, chant the Hare Krishna mantra, or, if initiated with Gayatri mantras, silently chant the Brahma-gayatri (first line of Gayatri). The shikha should not be braided (traditionally only women braid their hair), nor should it be kept long and disheveled. Naturally, if the shikha is too short to be tied, it is all right to leave it open, but it should not be disheveled.8. Significance of Shaving head – It is a symbol of renunciation. If you see materialists, they are extremely fond of hair. Decorating hair etc. pulls us into bodily consciousness. This is not good for practicing spiritualists. So as an indication of renunciation from material consciousness devotees shave head.9. Significance of shikha – Another view: It is a symbol of duality of souls and supreme Lord. Impersonalists believe that there is no duality between the supreme and the living entity and they are expected to shave their heads completely. Vaishnavites believe in the philosophy that there is clear and eternal distinction between supreme god Krishna and living entities. The shikha is symbol of Krishna which is large and the remaining very little hair is the symbol of insignificant and innumerable conditioned living entity10.) Scientific Reasons for Having a Shikha:(A) A person who keeps Shikha attracts cosmic energy which imparts enlightenment.(B) The small portion of hair that hangs from behind our head applies little pressure on our brains that helps one to improve concentration and mind control and improve memory.From the time of the Vedas, the shikha was a distinguishing feature of the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. It signified the ‘twice-born’ or all those Upanayanam has been performed. At the time of Chudakarana, a tuft of hair was left on the head, never to be cut. This shikha covered a large part of the brain. According to Sushruta, the reason that a few tufts are left on the head is that at the crown, an artery joins a critical nerve juncture. Since an injury to this part of the head is believed to be fatal, it was considered necessary to protect the area by keeping a tuft of hair over it. The shikha was a symbol of superiority and of cleanliness.Any religious or auspicious ceremony required the shikha to be tied in a knot. The knot was tied to the accompaniment of the Gayatri Mantra. An untied shikha was a symbol of disgrace, impurity and mourning.
- Karnavedha—Hindus believe the working of the mind is enhanced with the wearing of gold ornaments in ear and nose; nose jewelry protects the nose from nasal problems and provides relief from coughs and colds; Wearing ear-rings by women helps to regulate menstrual periods and also provides relief in problems like hysteria. Piercing of ears is also equated with acupuncture techniques that are in vogue for preventing sicknesses. It is believed that the rays of the sunlight pass through pierced holes, increasing intelligence of both boys and girls. Yajurveda says: "At an appropriate time and place one should pray to gods and expose the child's ears to the rays of the sun chanting the suggested Mantra. Ear-piercing is generally performed along with Choodeekarana, shaving of the head. Ornamentation is part and parcel of Hindu Vedic culture. Males tend to wear small and simple ornaments while females wear large, elaborate ornaments on their ear lobes. Usually for boys the right ear is pierced first followed by the left, after the prescribed initiation ritual by the parents. Maternal uncle holds the child on his lap while ears are pierced. In girls, left ear is pierced first followed by the right. It is also customary to pierce the left side of the nose for girls. Samskaaras mentioned above are meant to protect the child from the evil influences arising from the sins committed by the parents. They are done by the parents to remove the ills caused to the child by their harmful influences.
- Vidyaarambha or Aksharaabhyaasa—this ceremony is performed by the parents when the child is five years old. It is the sacrament in which the child is introduced to read and write alphabets called Aksharaabhyaasa. The Vedic culture attaches high value for learning and knowledge. Sanctity of knowledge is stressed in this ritual. The child is taught to develop reverential attitude towards knowledge which helps one to grow and mature with wisdom. In this ceremony, prayers are offered to the Lord in the form of deities Ganesha, Saraswati, Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara and the Teacher. The ceremony ends with the child seeking the blessings of elders and teachers. The child is made to learn by heart important prayers especially to Guru (teacher), Ganesha and Saraswati:
"Gurur Brahmaa gurur Vishnuh gurur devoe Maheswarah | Gurur saakshaat Parabrahma tasmai Sri gurave namah ||"
"Vakratunda Mahaakaaya Koeti Soorya Samaprabha / Nirvighnam kuru may deva Sarvakaryeshu sarvadaa //"
"Sarasvatee namstubhyam varaday kaamaroopinee / Vidyaarambham karishyaami siddhir bhavatu may sadaa //"
Hindu children living abroad are tutored at home or made to join Vedic heritage classes where such facilities are available and taught to chant prayers after this ceremony every day thus creating interest in them to Paravidya (knowledge about the Supreme).
- Upanayana—Brahmacharya (celibacy) is the first stage in Hindu's life. Upanayana is the sacrament by which the child is initiated into Brahmacharya. It is usually performed for Brahmin boys at the age of 8, 12 for Kshatriya boys and 16 for Vaisyas depending on their pursuits of their assigned or family profession by the Vedic society. In the case of Brahmin boys, it is performed earlier as they require more time to study Vedas under a Guru which usually takes twelve years.
Mahanaaraayana Upanishad says: Gayatree chaturvimsatyaksharaa tripadaa shatkukshih panchaseershah Upanayane viniyogah || The deity Gayateree has twenty-four syllables, comprised in three feet, six sheaths or cavities and five heads. It is employed in Upanayana, or initiation into Vedic studentship. This is the origin of Upanayana samskara. Gayatree is also known as Saavitree and Sarasvatee. The Supreme Being as the indweller and impeller of all Creation is known as Savitar and hence the passage in praise of him is called Saavitree. The Vedas are represented as a lake or Saras which gives the waters of life and hence Gaayatree as the essence of Vedas is called Sarsvatee. These two terms magnify Gaayatree as the object of worship.
This ritual also fosters independent thinking and living by the boy while pursuing his Vedic studies. Until the boy finishes his education, he spends his time solely devoted to Vedic studies, avoiding all other pursuits and attractions. He pledges to be attentive, study well and respect the teacher. It is the first Samskaara that a boy performs, chanting the Mantras himself. Now-a-days even as student-bachelors or as householders we have ceased to chant the Vedas and practice Vedic rites. So, we do not care to have Sikha or tuft and also ignore rituals connected with it. In Vedic days even girls underwent Upanayana Samskaara. Even now some Namboodari families solemnize Upanayana ceremony for girls wherever they live. In Brahmin community, this ceremony has become a social and religious obligation. Whether one studies Vedas or not this ceremony is conducted at any time before the marriage ceremony by Brahmin community. May be the Brahmin community today understands its original intent towards spiritualism, and therefore recognizes the need for sacred thread ceremony and also wear it constantly.
The three strands of the sacred thread remind the wearer constantly of his duties to the teacher, to the gods and fore-fathers. They are symbolic of trinities, Brahma Vishnu and Siva and also the three Vedas, Rig, Yajur and Sama. They also signify the three gunas a man is saddled with in this life—Satva (purity), Rajas (worldly pleasures and ego) and Tamas (darkness or illusion). Man should strive to increase the content of Satva component by controlling as well as decreasing the other two gunas, if not eliminate them completely focusing on Brahman, to improve his life for liberation.
Religious texts also prescribe the way the sacred threads have to be worn and replaced. At least once a year the sacred threads have to be replaced observing prescribed rituals. The sacred threads are always worn on the left shoulder, their normal position (called Upaveeti), and during worship. On rituals like cremation and offering oblation to fore-fathers it is held on the right shoulder (called Praacheenaaveeti). It is also obligatory to tie the sacred threads around the right ear raising it high, after taking it to a garland form (called Niveeti) when one attends to his nature calls. This also keeps them clean avoiding accidental contamination. In the opinion of Dr. S.R. Saxena of Queen Elizabeth's Children Hospital in London, tying of sacred threads around the ears while attending to nature calls has a scientific explanation. Tying of the threads around the ear after bringing it to garland form enhances spasmodic movements of the intestines enabling easy and complete evacuation of bladder and fecal matter without hindrance. With this better cleaning of intestines and bladder, blood pressure is kept well under control. It is also believed that the pressure around the ear strengthens the heart activity. Ayurveda mentions that nerves around the right ear are linked with muscles controlling evacuation of bladder and those nerves on the left are linked with anus. Diseases like excessive urination, diabetes, piles and fistula are helped by this action.
After this ceremony some continue to do daily rituals connected with it chanting Gayatri mantra. Since Sudras (service class) had no intention to study Vedas even during vedic period, they did not go through this ceremony and therefore there was no religious mandate for them to undergo this. Kshatriyas and Vaisyas conduct this ceremony if they so desire but it is not a social or religious obligation anymore. It may be of interest to know even in the medieval period and later some of the Azhwars of Tamilnadu who were not Brahmins were Vedic scholars and experts in the interpretation of Vedas. Ramanuja the great philosopher accepted and respected Nammazhwar, a renowned Vedic scholar and main author of Tamil Divyaprabhandam (Tamil Veda), who was not a Brahmin as his Guru.
Upanayana means "Taking near", taking the boy near to his Guru for his bachelorhood (Brahmacharyaasrama). A woman's Guru is her husband. Joining him in holy Vedic matrimony is considered as her Upanayana according to Kaamakoeti-peetham Sankaracharya. Therefore he feels there is no need to conduct Upanayana for girls. According to the system devised by sages, a boy is made to surrender to his Guru at the time of his Upanayana ceremony while girl does the same to her husband at the time of her marriage, who is her Guru, friend, philosopher and guide.
In Vedic period, students had to live for several years in their teacher's house or Gurukula institutions. A special religious sacrament besides Upanayana was also conducted after their return home. No such tradition is followed today. Educational system has changed today and is now very similar to that in the West. Upanayana ceremony and its connected ceremonies have therefore become a formality and indicative of caste system insistency ignoring their original intent to initiate the child to Vedic studies or Paravidya (spiritual studies). It was a spiritual initiation during the Vedic period for the three higher castes before attaining puberty, which has lost its significance today. However this ceremony, when conducted without the follow up study of Vedas, reminds the young minds the need to start spiritual education on their own under a teacher or the parents. Privately run Vedic Heritage Classes run by temples and philanthropic institutions cultivate the spirit of spiritualism now-a-days for all Hindus irrespective of their caste or gender considerations.
- Upanayana is considered as a process of rebirth and therefore one who undergoes this ceremony is called Dwija or twice born. The child begins the life of studentship with the pledge to live a disciplined life of study. Upanayana ceremony is very elaborate and conducted on an auspicious day and time. The child then moves to Gurukula or the hermitage of the Guru under whom Veda is studied. The child receives a sacred bath and approaches his teacher announcing his intention to study Vedas. He is given new clothing befitting bachelorhood and invested with a sacred thread of three strands with a knot at the end, called Yajnoepaveeta which is worn across the chest over the left shoulder. He is also initiated to Gayatri Mantra which is a prayer for emotional maturity and wisdom and Mantras to be chanted before and after food, thanking the Lord for having blessed his life comfortable with good food. After this he performs his first fire ritual (Homa) called Samitaadhaana. The ceremony ends by begging his mother and other women for food called Bhikshaatana.
- Vedaarambha —this is a sacrament performed by a student before his teacher prior to beginning the study of Vedas. The Sanskaara consists of Tarpana (water oblation) to nine Kaanda Rishis; Homa (fire oblation); Adhyayana (Vedic study); and Utsarjana, conclusion of the ceremony. By this sacrament and prayers the bond between the teacher and the student is fostered and the study of scriptures is sanctified. This sacrament has also lost its meaning now-a-days as Upanayana. At the commencement of Adhyayana and before Utsarjana the following Shanti Mantra (peace seeking Mantra) is invariably chanted both by the teacher and the taught: "Sahanaa vavatu Sahanau Bhunaktu / Saha veeryam karavaavahai / Tejasvi Naavadheetamastu maa vidvishaavahai / Om Shaanatih, Shaantih, Shaantih /" May He (the Supreme) protect us both (the teacher and the taught)! May He invigorate us both to enjoy the study! May we both exert together (to discover the true inner meaning of scriptures)! May our studies be fruitful and faithful! May we not misunderstand each other at any time! May peace be with us from divine wraths (heavenly disturbances)! May peace be with us from phenomenal cruelties (external disturbances)! May peace be with us from bodily obstacles (internal disturbances). With this Mantra the guru and the disciple are psychologically prepared to give, receive and discuss knowledge. Good teacher-student relationship is needed to learn quickly and succeed.
Religious texts also prescribe an additional "Medhajanana" ceremony before commencing serious study of Vedas. Medhajanana literally means arousing intellect. Hindus believe that with this ceremony the child's intellect, brilliance, knowledge and devotion are generally enhanced. With the study of Vedas all sins are eliminated; one lives longer; one succeeds in everything. The nectar of learning comes just like normal food and water.
- Kaesaanta—this sacrament is performed by the boy who is sixteen years of age, that is when he has reached the age of adolescence. In this ceremony the boy starts shaving his beard, renews his commitment to the life of bachelorhood (Brahmacharya) and offers gifts to the teacher. This marks the transition from boyhood to adulthood. However he does not compromise his commitment to self discipline and completion of study till he leaves his Guru.
- Samaavartana —this sacrament marks the end of the life of studentship. This is performed by one who chooses to enter the next stage of life of the householder (Grihastaasrama). It involves a purification bath, offering prayers and offering dakshina in the form of gifts and money to the teacher who has been teaching him all along free, without charging him anything and taking care of his well-being at his place. Dakshina is an honorarium given by the disciple to the guru, affirming his faith, and devotion to the guru for the invaluable knowledge he has received free. This has been replaced by college fees in modern educational system. The student is indeed indebted to the teacher.
The teacher also gives his final advice to the departing student, a kind of convocation address. The rare student who does not choose to pursue a householder's life makes his commitment to live as a bachelor (Brahmachaari) or take to Sanyaasa or mendicant's life to lead the life of an ascetic or monk. This sacrament aims at providing the final instructions on control of the senses, disposition towards charity and welfare of man-kind. Atharva Veda says: "A Brahmachari utilizing all abilities goes through the vast ocean of knowledge to seriously pick knowledge that could help him in his livelihood. As one who has graduated he receives honor through modesty, ability and calculated application of knowledge in his work.
- Vivaaha—the stage of life in which one lives a life of commitment to one's spouse and family is called "Grihastaasrama" in Vedic culture. It is a relationship to have a progeny and fulfill the duties and responsibilities that go within the context of making home and serving the society as per the mandates of Sanatana Dharma. It is a life-long commitment sanctified by the Hindu marriage ritual.
The husband puts on a second Yajnoepaveeta as he steps into the ritual signifying his wife's partaking
in all rituals. He undertakes to fulfill his debt to gods, pitrus (ancestors) and rishis (sages).
Marriage is looked upon as a coming together of two participating families to provide a broader social base wherein the couple can live together and raise a family besides joining hands as husband and wife. In Hindu marriages the union is not between a boy and a girl, but between two families. The girl is given in marriage to a family and not to a boy.
The marriage ceremony involves numerous prayers and sacrifices (homas) in which the couples seek the blessings of various forms of Supreme (gods) for a prosperous fulfilling of life together. They both request the invisible gods and the guests assembled to be witnesses to their commitments—making pledges to understand and support each other, live as friends and fulfill their obligations to the family and the society. Parents and siblings play an important role in the marriage ceremony.
After the Sacrament of Vivaaha, an individual assumes the responsibility to perform Samskaaras in the role of a parent.
Eight types of marriages have been prevalent in Hindu tradition. These are:
- Braahma Marriage—the father or guardian gives away the girl to a carefully chosen bridegroom well educated and endowed with noble qualities with their mutual consent.
- Daiva Marriage—girl given in gratitude to a priest performing some important worship ritual. Such marriages are rare.
- Aarsha Marriage—the bride's father gives the girl in exchange for the gift received in the form of milk cow and a breeding bull from the boy. In ancient times dairy cattle was the main wealth of Hindu society, hence such a gift which has no relevance today.
- Praajaapatya Marriage—girl's father gives away his daughter to the boy with his blessing "May both of you perform your duties together"
- Gaandhrva Marriage—the boy and girl marry secretly without the knowledge of their parents or guardians after a love affair.
- Aasura Marriage—the boy gives voluntarily as much wealth as he could afford to bride and his relatives in token of getting a wife. The law giver Manu did not approve this because it was like buying the bride by paying money.
- Raakshasa Marriage—the girl was forcibly taken away from her family and then forced or coaxed to marry.
- Paisaacha Marriage—person marries a girl whom he had seduced while she was as sleep, intoxicated or insane.
Of the eight forms of marriage Braahma Marriage, as is most popularly solemnized today, is the one that Dharmasaatra regards as the noblest and approves as Hindu Marriage. After the student-bachelor has completed his mission, his parents approach the parents of a girl belonging to a good family and ask them to give their daughter in marriage to their son—to make a gift of their daughter (Kanyaadaana). In it the girl's family does not give any dowry or jewelry to the boy's family. There is no commercial transaction and the goal of the Braahma Marriage is the dhaarmic advancement of the two families. This marriage also needs the mutual consent of the boy and the girl. Parents act as only advisers.
The love marriage is the Western style of marriage, and is close to Gaandharva Marriage. This has enthusiastic support these days. In all these eight forms of marriage the bride and bridegroom have the right to be united in wedlock with the chanting of the Mantras as per Hindu Law based on Vedic rites.
The entire marriage procedure for the bride and bridegroom is an elaborate religious ritual consisting of fasting, worship, fire sacrifice (homa) and some festivities. The exchange of rings and garlands is also part of the ceremony. The marriage ceremony starts with the Vaagdaana(oral consent) ritual and ends with Saptapadi ritual (seven steps promise). The marriage generally takes place in the bride's home or a temple arranged by the bride's parents. After the marriage bride goes with the bridegroom to her parent-in-laws home where certain other rituals connected with the marriage take place. Hindus do not plan for honey moon after marriage. During these ceremonies many friends and relatives are invited and treated with sumptuous feasts in both the homes. The bride is pampered with lavish gifts by the invited guests and close relatives. It seems, Vedic scriptures do not favor child marriage of a young man under twenty-one until after completion of his Vedic studies.
- Antyeshti—Hindu ceremonies connected with the death of an individual called Antyeshti, are performed by his or her children, spouse and relatives. The ceremony of Antyeshti as per Hindu Dharmasaastras is very elaborate, related to the disposal of the dead body and after cremation ceremonies for the departed soul which benefit not only the deceased but also the ones left behind. By cremating the body, it immediately becomes one with the various elements that constituted it without undergoing the process of decay. Many features of the elaborate religious ceremonies that are performed during the twelve days following the person's death facilitate the mourning process and overcome the intense grief. During this period, friends and relatives visit the family of the departed, to console and provide support to the bereaved. After the last day of the mourning period, that is the thirteenth day, prayers and rituals are performed for the benefit of the family and the blessings of the Lord are sought to help them continue with their life.
In invoking and praying for the departed and making offerings to him, one is able to recreate the presence of the departed as if he is still with them and gradually adjust to his absence.
Yajurveda says: The end of physical body is ash. It will end as ash. The dead body is therefore worthy of being turned into ash. Hindus believe that after death soul continues to hover around the dead body due to its earlier attachment to it. When the body is confined to the flames and burnt to ashes, the relationship between the soul and body ends. It is customary to gather the ashes on the fourth day after death and then immerse in sacred rivers like Ganges. Hindus believe that it takes 13 days for the soul to avoid going into auspicious form of spirit (Aatman). It is therefore customary to offer prayers and give charity to seek peace for the soul. If immediate immersion of the ashes is not possible it is preserved and immersed later when possible. It is also permissible to immerse the ashes in a sea since all river waters ultimately merge into the Sea wherever they are located since they are all inter connected.
This lecture has been prepared for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, by suitably extracting, abridging and editing texts from following sources which is gratefully acknowledged.
- Swami Nityananda, Symbolism in Hinduism, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
- Ramananda Prasad, Bhagavad Gita, American Gita Society, California, U.S.A.
- Swami Bhaskarananda, Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
- Ed. Viswanathan, Am I A Hindu? Rupa & Co., New Delhi, India.
- Prof. Shrikant Prasoon, Indian Scriptures, Pustak Mahal, New Delhi, India.
- Sunita Ramaswamy et al, Vedic Heritage Teaching, Gangadahareswara Trust, Rishikesh India.
- Chandrasekharananda Saraswati, Sankaracharya, Kamakoti Peetham, Hindu Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
- Prem P Bhalla, Hindu Rites, Rituals, customs and Traditions, Pustak Mahal, New Delhi, India.
- N.S Ananta Rangacharya, Selections from Principal Upanishads, Bangalore, India.
- S. M. Krishnamachar, Srivaishnava Dinachari, Sanatana Dharma Sabha, Saraguru, Karnataka, India.
- Srinivasan N.R. & Kamal Raghunathan, Upanayana Samskaram, Hindu Baby Shower and Namakaranam
WHAT DO HINDU RELIGIOUS TEXTS SAY ABOUT SAMSKAARAS?
"The rites of our religion have withstood the tests of times and are meant for the well being of the individuals, society at large and for the welfare of all mankind" says Jagadguru Sankaracharya.
Yah saastra vidhim utsrijya vartatae kaama kaaratah / na sah siddhim avaapnoeti na sukham na paramaa gatim// Tasmaat saastram pramaanam tae kaaryaakaarya vyavashitau / Jnaatvaa saastravidhaanoektam karma kartu7m ihaarhasi // (16—23 &24)
Whosoever neglects scriptures and lives according to his own desires does not attain liberation (Moksha) form this world nor finds happiness while living here. The religious texts by telling what is right and what is wrong guide your work. You must know the code of practice laid out by religious texts and pursue your vocation and work according to them.
Chitrakarmaa yathaanekaih rangaih unmeelyate sanaih / Braahmanyaamapi tadvatsyaat samskaaraih vidhipoorvakam ?
Just as a painter slowly reveals a picture through the medium of colors, in the same way sacraments properly performed, develop character befitting a learned or mature person. (Paraasara Smriti—8:19)
Garbhaadhaanam pumsavanam seemantoe jaatakarmas cha / Naamakriyaa nishkramanaennaasanam vapanakriyaa / Karnabedho vrataadesoe vedaarambha kriyaavidhih / Kesaantah snaanamudvaahoe vivaahaagni parigrahah / Tretaagni sangrahascheti samskaaraah shodasa smritaah //
Conception, fertilization ceremony aspiring for a boy, ceremony for safe and secure birth, ceremony after birth, naming ceremony, outing ceremony, feeding with cereal food, sowing seeds--chowla, thread ceremony, ear piercing, offering hair (shaving beard), initiation of Vedic studies, Convocation or Vedasnaana, marriage, going round the marriage fire, ceremony for conservation of fire to start domestic life constitute sixteen sacraments. (Laghu Vyyasa Smriti—1:30)
Nishaekaad baijakam chainoe gaarbhikam chaapamrijyatay /Kshetrasamskaaa-siddhischa garbhaadhaanaphalam smritam //
A well planned union in the couple ensures a suitable conception which results in a capable child. The negative qualities in the semen and ovum become ineffective. A good conception is the fruit of understanding and mutual planning--(Smriti Sangraha).
Aahaaraachaara-cheshthaabhir yadnishoebhih samanvitau / streepumsoe-samupaeyaataam tayoeh putroepi taadrisah //
Depending on the diet, temperament and behavior of man and woman at the time of physical union, the son born of such a union will have similar behavior—(Sushruta Samhita 2/4/6/50).
Vishnoer yoenim kalpayatu tvashtaa roopani pisatau / Aasinchatau prajaapatir dhaataa garbham dadhaatu tay // Garbham daehi Sineevaali garbham daehi prithushtukay / Garbham tae ashwinau devaa vaadhattaam pushkara srajau //
May Vishnu prepare and make your womb! May god Tvashta make the form resplendent! May Prajaapati sprinkle the seed! May the all supporting Dhaata help you bear the embryo! Oh Prithushtuka, sustain the embryo! May two Ashwini gods adorned by lotus garland sustain your embryo—(Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad 6/4/21).
Balam balavataam chaaham kaamaraaga vivarjitam / Dharmaaviruddhoe bhooteshu kaamoesmi Bharatarshabha //
I am the strength in the strong individual who is devoid of lust and selfish attachment. I am passion (sexual desire) in human beings when it is in accordance with righteousness (dharma) for the sacred purpose of procreation—(Geeta 7/11).
Garbhaad bhaveccha pumsootay pumstvasya pratipaadanam /
May the conceived child be a son! Pumsavana ceremony is conducted with this fond desire—(Manusmriti).
Punnamnoe narakaadyasmaat traayatae pitaram sutah //
It is really the son who saves the father from going to hell—(Manusmriti 9/138).
Pumaanagnih pumaanindraha pumaan devoe brihaspatih / Pumaamsam putram vindasva tam pumannu jaayataam //
Agnideva is male. Lord Indra is male. Guru Brihaspati is also male. You too should grow to be a male.
Husbands carry both X and Y chromosomes. At the time of conception if a sperm carrying X chromosome meets ovum it is fertilized to produce a girl. If the sperm carrying Y chromosome meets the ovum a boy is born. Therefore the deciding factor is the male sperm which fertilizes the ovum and the sex is determined immediately on conception. Hence male child is given importance.
Yaenaaditae seemaanam prajaapatirmahatae sowbhaagyaaya / Taenaahamasmai seemaanam nayaami prajaamasyai jaradrishtim krinoemi //
Just as Prajaapati had performed Seemantha ceremony for his wife Aditi I am performing it for my pregnant wife so that the son may be capable and blessed with long life.
Kim pasyasi ityuktvaa prajaamiti vaachyaet tam saa svayam / Bhunjeeta veerasoor jeevapatni iti braahmanyoe mangalaabhir vaagbhi paaseeran //
When asked what you are looking for the woman said that she was looking for a progeny. She should eat a dish containing rice and pulses (kichadi). The ladies present should bless her such that she may give birth to a live child. She should live a long lasting happy life—(Gohil Grihasootra—(2/7/9-12).
The following Mantra is also chanted during the ceremony by the husband to his pregnant wife:
Om bhoor vinayaami, Om bhuvar vinyaami, Om svar vinayaami /
Aayurvarchoebhi vriddhischa siddhir vyavahritaes tathaa / Naamakarma phalam tvaetat samud- dishtam maneeshibhihi //
The personality of the child grows with the Naamakarma. The name plays an important part in molding the worldly behavior of the individual. One builds his identity with its help--(Smriti Samhita).
Naamakhilasya vyavahaarahetuh subhaavaham karmasu bhaagyahetuh / Naamnaiva keertim labhatae manushyaha tatah prasastam khalu naamakarma //
In the world all transactions take place through name; name is the base for auspiciousness in all actions; a person gains fame only through his name. Therefore, naming ceremony takes its importance—(Veeramitroedaya Samskaara Prakaasa)
Dasamyaam utthaapya pitaa naamakaroeti /
The Naamakarana sacrament can be done on the tenth day after purification ceremony by the father—(Paraasara Grihyasootra).
Jananaaddasaraatrae vyushtae samvatsarae vaa naamadhaeyakaranam /
Some people have the custom of doing this ceremony after 100 days instead of ten days; some do it after one year—(Gobhil Grihyasootra)
Swe swebhyoe asaebhyastu kanyaabhyah pradadyur bhraatarah prithak / swaastwaadamsa chaturbhaagam patitaah syuraditsavah //
Sons must give part of their share to unmarried sisters. The brother who does not give one fourth of his wealth to the sister is depraved—(Manusmriti 9/118). Thus the saastras were not one sided and partial to sons.
Yathaivaatmaa tathaa putraena duhitaa samaa /
Just as the soul and son are alike, so are a son and a daughter.
Yaastaasaam syur duhitaras taasaamapi yathaarhatah / Maataamahyaa dhanaat kinchit pradeyam preetipoorvakam //
Manu has devised that daughter be given a share just like a son from the father's estate. He also advises support from maternal grand-mother's estate when father's estate is not divided--Hindu religious texts sometimes wrongly interpret as if only sons are cared for. This is not true)—(Manu Smriti 9/193.
Sivae tae staam dyaavaaprithavee asantaapae abhisriyau / sam tae soorya aa tapatu sam vaatoe vaatu tae hridae / sivaa abhi kshrantu tvaapoe divyaah payasvateeh //
Oh child! At the nishkramana sacrament may the earth and the world shower welfare and benevolence upon you! May the Sun shine brightly upon you! May your chest be filled with fresh life-giving air! May the divine waters of Ganga and Yamuna quench your thirst!
Nishkramanaad aayushoe vriddhir appyuddishtaa maneeshibhih /
The nishkramana ceremony aims at wishing the child a long and healthy life according to religious texts.
Annatoe praanam praantoe paraakramam / annam na nindyaat //
With food you receive life, and with life you acquire valor. Do not abuse food and make good use of it and offer prayers to it before consuming say several religious texts.
Annaasanaan maatrigarbhae malaasaa dyapi suddhayati / Aahaarasuddhou sattvasuddhi /
The food reaching the child through the mother may not be good enough for long for the child and it should be introduced to solid good food. With pure food best abilities are generated within the body.
Annmayam hi soemya mana aapoemayah /
The mind is supported and accelerated by solid food—(Chandogya 6-5-4).
Annamasitam traedhaa vidheeyatae / Tasya yah sthavishtoe dhaatustaat pureesham bhavati / yoe madhya mastanmaamsaani yoe anishthas tan manah //
The food that is eaten assumes three fold form. The gross portion of it becomes the feces. The middle portion becomes the flesh and the subtle portion becomes the mind—(Chandogya 6-5-1).
Sivau tae staam vreehi yavaavabalaasaavadoemadhow / Yaetau yakshmam vi baadhaetae yaetau munchatoe amhasah //
This Mantra is chanted while feeding the rice porridge: "Oh child! May barley and rice give you strength and nourishment! Both destroy serious diseases. Being divine both destroy sin"—(Atharvaveda 8/2/18)
Taena tae aayushae vapaani suloekaaya svaastayae /
With chowla the child is blessed with a long life. The child develops charm and incline towards useful occupations—(Ashwaalaya Grihyasootra 1/17/2).
Sadoepaveetina bhaavyam sadaa baddhasikhaena cha / visikhoe vyupaveetascha yatkaroeti na tatkritam /
Without a tuft yajna, charity, penance fast and other auspicious acts become redundant—(Kaatyaayanasmriti 1/4)
Vinaa yachhikhayaa karma vinaa yajnoepaveetakam / raakshasam taddhi vijnaeyam samastaa nishphalaa kriyaaha //
Without tuft even virtuous actions become demonical—(Vedavyaas)
Snaanae daanae japae hoemae sandhyaayaam devataarchanae / sikhaagranthim sadaa kuryat ityaetat manurabraveet //
While giving charity, taking bath, meditating, doing Homa (fire sacrifice), in daily rituals, while worshipping gods, keep the tuft tied to a knot says Manu.
Nivarttayaamyaayusae-annaadyaaya prajananaaya / raayaspoeshaaya suprajaas tvaaya suveeryaaya //
O child! I perform this ceremony of Chowla so that you may be blessed with long life; you may be able to digest the food you eat! You may be productive in whatever you do! Your glory and fame may grow! You may be blessed with a happy family and children; you may be praised wherever you go!—(Yajurveda. 3/63).
Yajurveda prescribes following Shanti Mantra in 25/21 to be chanted at an appropriate place praying to gods while exposing the child's ears to the rays of the Sun:
Bhadram karnaebhih srunuyaama devaa bhadraam pasyaema akshabhiryajatraah / sthirairangais-tushtuvaam sastanoobhih yasaemahi daevahitam yadaayuhu //
Oh Gods! May we listen to what is meaningful with our ears! May we see things that are free from blemish with our eyes! May we enjoy our full lives with strong limbs praying to you with mantra that are pleasing to you!
Vidyaa naama narasya roopamadhikam pracchannaguptam dhanam / Vidyaa bhoegakaree yasah sukhakaree vidyaa guroonaam guruh / Vidyaa bandhujanoe vidaesagamanae vidyaa paraa devataa / Vidyaa raajasu poojatae nahi dhanam vidyaavinah pasuh //
Knowledge is the best beauty and the best decoration for man. It is his secret wealth. It gives pleasure, fame and all that is needed for happy life. It is the teacher of teachers. It is revered wealth by kings. Without knowledge man is an animal—(Bhartrihari)
Maataeva rakshati pitaeva hitae niyuktae / kaantaeva chaapi ramayatyapaneeya khaedam / Lakshmeem tanoeti vitanoeti cha dikshu keertim / kim kim na saadhayati kalpalataeva vidyaa //
Knowledge is protective like a mother. It takes one to useful pursuits like a father. It helps one to overcome problems and reach contentment like a wife. It aids one to become prosperous. It helps to bring recognition from all directions. It is like the mythological tree Kalpataru, giving you whatever you wish—(Subhaashita, Bhandagar 3/14).
The Purpose: "Sribhagavadaagnyaa brahmataejoe bala siddhyartaham srauta smaarta nitya karmaanushthaana yoegyataa siddhyartham aatma taejoebalasiddhyartham yajnoepaveeta dhaaranam karishyae"
I wear these holy threads to attain the right to perform my daily duties (karmas), Srauta karma and Smarta karma (sacrificial duties) and to get strength and glory as well as inner Self strength in my efforts to attain liberation.
Maturagray adhijananam dwiteeyam monjibandhaney /
A child's first birth is from the womb. The second birth is given by the upanayana ceremony when yajnoepaveeta, the sacred thread is worn—(Manusmriti 2/169)
Na hyasminyujyatae karma kinchidaa mounjeebandhanaat /
Without having undergone upanayana (thread) ceremony, nobody is entitled to perform any religious rite—(Manusmriti 2/171).
Daevadwija guruprjnapoojanam sauchmaarjavam / Brahmacharyamahimsaa cha sareeram tapa uchyatay //
The worship of Gods, Brahmins, elders and the wise, purity, Brahmacharya (celibacy), straightforwardness and non-violence–these are called penance through the physical self—(Geeta 7/14).
Om bhooh, bhuvaha, suvaha, tat savitur varaenyam bhargoe daevasya dheemahi dheeyoe yoe nah prachoedayat //
We meditate upon the divine effulgence of Saavitri (God, the creator of the three worlds, the earth, heaven, and the intervening space as indicated by the three vyaahritis) signified by the Pranava or Omkaara (and existing in the orb of the Sun). May he impel our intellects in the right direction (i.e., towards himself)!—(This is the Gaayatri Mantra initiated by the Guru during the Upanayana ceremony).
Following Mantras to be chanted before and after taking meals are also initiated:
Before food: Satyam tatvaena parishinchaami. Amritoepastaranmasi //
Oh Immortal Lord! Thou art the 'Upastarana' or the sheet spread for the food (you are my support)
After food: Amritoe pidhaanamasi //
You are the cover of the form of nectar (you are my shelter). May I live under your protection!
The new pupil is also initiated to chant the following mantra and swallow food without biting in small bits before the commencement of eating. This is symbolic of performing a Homa (fire sacrifice) to Jhataraagni (stomach fire):
Om Praanaya swaaha; Apanaaya swaaha; Vyaanaaya swaaha; Udaanaaya swaha; Samaanaaya swaaha; Brahmanay swaaha:
This prayer is offered to Brahman, the Spirit within us and its subordinates, Pancha Praanas, five vital life forces which Hindus believe in.
Nidhaaya dakshinae karnae Brahma-sootramudang mukhah / Aghni kuryaachchakrinmootram raatrai chaed dakshinaamukhaah //
When a man attends to his nature's call the sacred threads are raised and wound around the right ear; one must also face in day the north direction and in the night south while attending to nature's call. (Koormapurana 13/34)
Mootrae tu dakshinae karnae pureeshae vaama karnakae / Upaveetam sadaadhaarya maithunaetoopaveetivi //
When passing urine the sacred threads must be wound round the right ear and when passing stools they should be worn round the left ear. At the time of sexual union it is left in its normal position. (Ahnneeka Kaarika)
Oordhvam naabhaermaedhyatarah purushah parikeertitah / Tasmaan maedhyatamam tvasya mukhamuktam svayambhuvaaa //
One is pure above the navel and impure below the navel. The lower portion contains the bladder and intestines that hold urine and fecal matter. The lower portion becomes impure after excretion Therefore purity of the sacred threads is maintained by raising it to the head level tied around the ear. (Manusmriti 1/92)
Srutistu vedoe vijnaeyoe dharmasaastram tu wai smritih / Srutismriteetu vipraanaam chakshushee dway vinirmitae / kaanastraikayaa heenoe dwabhyaamandhaah prakeertitah //
Knowledge of the Supreme which is the only true knowledge (para vidya) comes from the Vedas and the scriptures. Out of the two eyes one has, one is the Shruti and the other is the Smriti. One cannot feel the sense of perfection or completeness in the absence of any one of these. Those who do not possess either of the two are completely blind (Vaadhusmriti 190:191).
Sa hi vidyaatastam janayati/ tacchaeshtham janmah / sareeramaeva maataapitarau janayatah //
Parents only give body and life, but the teacher gives knowledge, the analytical and synthesizing capacity and make the student grow from inside by Paravidya.
Gurumantroe mukhae yasya tasya siddhayanti naanyatha / deekshayaa sarvakarmaani siddhayanti guruputrakay //
Whoever has the Guru mantra, he is always successful; others are not. With proper Initiation (ceremony), one is always successful—(Gurugeetaa 2/131). Deeksha means Initiation.
Om Prajaapatim Kaandarishim tarpayaami / Om Soemam Kaandarishim tarpayaami /Om Agnim Kaandarishim tarpayaami / Om Viswaan Devan Kaandarishim tarpayami / Om Saamhiteerdevataa Upanishadah tarpayami / Om Yajnakeerdevataa Upanishadah tarpayaami / Om Vaaruneerdevataa Upanishadah tarpayaami / Om Brahmaanagam Svaayambhuvam tarpayaami / Om Sadasaspatim tarpayaami //
Yuvaa suvaasaah pariveetaagaat sa u sraeyaan bhavati jaaya maanah / Tam dheeraasah kavayaa unnayanti swaadhyoe manasaa devayantah //
When a young man gives up school and the associated work attire and wears good clothes to enter into the family life (grihastaasrama), he is greeted with auspicious praise and action. With patience, intelligence, wisdom and best wishes he is accorded an important position to utilize the education he has received—(Rigveda 3/8/4)
Athoe ardhoe vaa evaanyatah yat patnee /
Until a woman fills it to make it a man's body is not complete—(Taittareeya Brahmana 33/3/5)
Asapindaa cha yaa maaturasagoetraa cha yaa pituh / saa prasastaa dvijaateenaam daarakarmani maithunay //
When the boy and the girl do not belong to six generations from the maternal side and also do not come from the father's lineage, marriage between the two is good—(Manusmriti 3/5).
Dasa poorvaan paraan vamsyaan aatman chaika vimsakam / Brahmeeputrah sukritakrin moechayae daenasah pitreen //
A son born of Braahma type of marriage absolves the sins for 21 generations. This includes 10 generations of the past, 10 for the future, and the one currently running—(Manusmriti 3/37), thereby showing the preference for this type of marriage.
Na jaayatae mriyatae vaa kadachit na ayam bhootvaa vaa na bhooyah /Ajoe nityah saasvatoe-ayam puraanoe na hanyatae hanyamaanae sareeray // (Gita 2/20)
The soul was never born; nor does it die. It will not emerge again. It is unborn, eternal, everlasting and without age. Even when the body is destroyed, the soul remains untouched.
Aa rabhasva jaatavedas taejsvadharoe astu tay / sareeramasya sam dahaathainam dhaehi sukritaamu loekay //
O Fire God! Please accept the dead body. Give it a refuge. May your acceptance of the body bring you glory. Oh God in the form of fire, burn this body and deliver the soul to the abode of righteousness—(Atharvaveda 18/3/71).
Vaayuranilam amritam athaedam bhasmaantam sareeram / Om kratoe smara klibay smarakritam smara //
At the time of leaving the body chant the Pranava Mantra OM. Remember your past deeds. The air that goes in and out of the body is like celestial nectar. But the end of the physical body is ash. It will have to end as ash. Therefore the body is worthy of being turned into ash—(Yajurveda 40/15).
Yaavadastheeni Gangaayam tishtanti purushasya tu / taavad varsha sahasraani svargaloekay maheeyatay / teerthaanaam paramam teertham nadeenaam paramaa nadee / moekshadaa sarvabhootaanaam mahaapatakeenamapi / Sarvatra sulabhaa Gangaa trishu sthaaneshu durlabhaa / Gangaadwaarae Prayaagae cha Gangaasaagara sangamay / Sarvaeshaamaeva bhootaanaam paapoe hata chaetasaam / Gatimanvaeshamaanaam naasti Gangaasamaa gatih //
As long as the ashes of the dead person remain in the Ganges, the departed soul is held with respect in heaven for thousand times of that number. Of all the pilgrimages and of all the rivers, Ganges is considered to be sacred. It grants salvation to all, including those who have committed heinous crimes. Although accessible wherever it flows, Ganges is unique at Hardwar, Prayag, and Gangasagar. For those who desire salvation, there is no better place than the Ganges including for those sinners who are emotionally downtrodden—(Koormapuraana 35/31-34).