Saturday, March 29, 2014


(Compilation for a discourse by N.R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA)

With the progress of social consciousness people were given a name because without particular names of individuals it is impossible to carry on the business of a cultured society. The Hindus very early realized the importance of naming persons and converted the system of naming into a religious ceremony. Brihaspati with a poetic exaggeration remarks about the desirability of naming: “Naama (name) is the primary means of social impact: it brings about merits and it is the root of fortune. From name one attains fame. Therefore, naming ceremony is very praiseworthy."

After the birth of a child the naming ceremony (Naamakaranam) is an important sacrament where relatives and friends get-to-gather to bless the new born child. Namakarana was more a custom than a ceremony in the beginning. But being the occasion of a great social importance, it was later on included in the Samskaras

Smriti Sangraha says:
Aayurvarchoabhivriddhischa siddhir-vyavahritestathaa   | Naamakarma-phalam tvetat tamuddishtam maneeshibhih ||

With Namakaranam ceremony the personality and the age of the child grows. The name plays a significant part in molding the worldly behavior of the individual. One builds through it an identity. Hindus believe that a child’s destiny depends upon the configuration of the Nine Planetsn (Navagrahas) at the time of birth, day or night, month and place of birth. Hence a horoscope is made with the help of an astrologer. The effect of the planets on the marital life and child birth of the individuals can also be studied and predicted by the horoscope. Hence many families compare the horoscopes of the prospective bride and bridegroom for compatibility to get good children (suputra labham). A child’s name is based on the planetary configuration at the time of birth. The child is identified with it. The first letter of the name should be such that can be identified with the planetary configuration and the influence thereof.  Janmanakshatra or birth-star forms the basis. This explains how abnormal births and defective births take place to healthy parents. The tainted soul based on its Karma Balance sheet finds its resort in a couple. Science often does not have an explanation here. At the time of birth during Jatakarma all children are given the secret name “Veda” to  be endowed with wisdom of Vedas in life.
The Samskaras are an integral part of Vedic culture often mentioned in and guided by Upanishads. Each Samskara or sacrament has definite significance and marks a definite land mark in life. The prenatal and postnatal Samskaras serve as prayers for guidance and support from the Lord, which help the individual proceed through the stages of life. The Samskaras for early life, including prenatal and postnatal are performed by the parents for the sake of the child. The first samskara to which a child is directly exposed and actively participates is Upanayana Samskara (sacred thread ceremony)  for those who want to pursue Para Vidya (spiritual studies).

Samskaras are of two kinds—Nitya karma and Naimittika Karma. Nitya Karmas are the acts that are to be performed daily and Naimittika Karmas are those that are to be performed occasionally. The Nitya and Naimittika Karmas that constitute Samskaras  are forty in number. 14 of these are clled Smaarta Karmas while the remaining Srauta Karmas. Srauta Karmas are   generally performed for the benefit of the world at large while Smarta or Grihya Karmas are performed for the benefit of one’s self and one’s family. Of the 40 Karmas in   Vedic culture, only 16 samskaras are prevalent in Hindu Society today. The first ritual on the birth of a baby is Jaatakarma (birth ceremony), followed further by Nishkramanam (exposure to the light and outside), Annpraasanam (first solid food feeding), Mundan (shaving of head to remove hairs at birth), Choulam Or Sikha (have a tuft) performed after three years generally.

Naming ceremony is performed on 11th, 12th, 16th, 20th, or 22nd day of  birth of the child on an auspicious day  based on the birth-star (Janma Nakshatra) of the child, avoiding Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Hindus believe that in the event of birth or death in the family there is defilement or saucha for ten days of the event and therefore on auspicious day should be found after 10 days. Paraasara Grihyasootra says: Dasamyaam utthaapya pitaa nama karoti—The Namakarana ceremony can be performed after ten days after a sanctification  Homa ( fire sacrifice).

The derivation of the word Namakaranam in Sanskrit is Naama  kriyate yasmin karmaani tat—the act by which a name is given to a child. The child’s name is determined according to different factors including the family deity, the deity of the month and the Hindu Star, the child is born. The name of a saint or the name of any deity may also be selected.  A child is named on the basis of three criteria. The first is based on astrology, the planetary configuration as described above. The second criterion is that the name should be able to identify family details from the name. It is also customary to identify caste using the last name as Sharama (one who is interested in spiritual pursuits), Verma (Inclined towards Physical strength building), Lingayat (Follower of Basaveswara philosophy), Dasa (a Vaishanva devotee), Gupta (business pursuits) etc.
The naming of a girl had a different basis. The name of a girl should contain an uneven number of syllables, it should end in a  and should have a Taddhita. Baijavapa says, "The name of a girl should contain three syllables and end in i   " Manu gives further qualifications of the name of a girl: "It should be easy to pronounce, not hard to hear, of clear meaning, charming, auspicious, ending in a long vowel and containing some blessing." She should not be given an awkward name indicating "a constellation, a tree, a river, a mountain, a bird, a servant, and a terror." Manu forbids girls to be given in marriage (Kanyaadaana) who are named after these objects. 

Earlier it was also customary to name a child after certain important people or some special abilities. It was believed that the name should constantly motivate the person to do what the name conveyed. Psychologists believe that whatever name you call a person, he or she responds with abilities in harmony with it. When a child is given a crude name it responds accordingly. Therefore, a child must be so named that it may be pleasing to the ears and motivate him or her to noble things in life.
Punyaahavachanam, a purification ritual, Nandi Sraaddha (ancestral worship), Navagraha Homa (planetary worship) etc., are done on the day of Naamakaranam and Brahmins (Vedic scholars) and the family members are fed on the occasion. The child is made to lick the honey, then gently whispered to and made to see the Sun, seeking blessings that the child may be glorious and brilliant like the Sun. The child is then made to touch the ground to devotedly surrender to the Lord.  The name of the child is then announced and all the relatives and friends bless the child for good health, happiness, long life and also give gifts.
William Shakespeare wisely said: “A good name, in man or woman, is the immediate jewel of their souls.

1.      Prem P Bhalla, Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs and Traditions, Pustak Mahal, Delhi.
2.      Jagadguru Chandasekharananda Saraswati, Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, Mumbai, India.
3.      Sanathana, Internet.


12 Spiritual Rituals That Honor The Arrival Of A New Baby
Cultures around the globe celebrate birth in unique ways.
Antonia Blumberg, Associate Religion Editor, The Huffington Post
The birth of a child can be an auspicious and sacred time for a family. Beliefs and rituals surrounding this important rite of passage vary from culture to culture. For instance, Hopi tradition in North America holds that a baby's true parents were the earth (as mother) and the corn plant (as father) with their human parents acting as surrogates who help to usher in the new life.
HuffPost Religion rounded up 12 different birth-related rituals from religious and cultural traditions. Some of those listed -- like male circumcisionfeeding honey to infants and mothers eating their placentas -- are medically contested, but they nonetheless offer a glimpse into practices that religious communities have observed for centuries.
Did you hold any rituals at the time of your child's birth? We would love to hear about it in the comments below! 
  • Before the birth
There are lots of religious and cultural ceremonies to honor women during their pregnancies. Some Hindus observe a ritual called Simantonnyana in the seventh month of pregnancy, during which prayers are recited and the mother's hair is delicately parted by her husband to put her in a calm, relaxed mood.
Some modern pagans hold "Blessing Way" ceremonies on the last full moon before a woman's due date. During the ritual friends gather, brush the woman's hair and wash her feet with herbs. Each woman in the circle presents the mother with a prayer or spiritual gift, before concluding with a ritual feast.
  • Burying the placenta
The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy, providing essential oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby. After the baby's birth, the placenta leaves the body, having fulfilled its purpose. Although most hospitals today simply dispose of placentas after childbirth, people from different religious and cultural traditions throughout history and to this day have honored the organ's role in nourishing the fetus. These rituals included burying, eating (which today some mothers are also choosing to do outside of a religious context) or making jewelry out of the placenta.
  • Head shaving
In Muslim and Hindu traditions, a baby's head is typically shaved within several days or in the first three years after birth. In Islam, it is done to show that the child is a servant of Allah. In Hinduism, the ceremony, called a mundan, is believed to rid the baby of negativity from their past life and cleanse the child's body and soul. Some Hindus in India take the baby's hair to scatter in the holy river Ganges, while some Muslims weigh it and donate the equivalent weight in silver to charity.
  • Circumcision
Male circumcision, called B'rit Milah in Judaism, is a ceremony and surgical operation in which the foreskin is removed from the penis of an 8-day old baby. Circumcision is also practiced in Islam and Christianity, though it is only considered a religious requirement in Judaism. The tradition stems from Genesis 17, in which God commands Abraham: “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days, every male among you throughout the generations shall be circumcised, even the homeborn slave... An uncircumcised male... has broken My covenant.”
  • Baptism
Baptisms, or rituals involving the literal or symbolic immersion in water, take place in several religious traditions and at different points in a person's life. Baptism of infants is common practice in Catholicism and viewed as a way of cleansing the child of "original sin." During the baptism, the priest pours water over the child's head, or sprinkles a few drops on their forehead, while reciting the Trinitarian invocation, “I baptize you: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Ear piercing
Some Hindus choose to have their baby's ears pierced in a ritual called Karnavedha. Some believe that the pierced ears help ward off evil, while other believe the ear lobe is a vital acupuncture point and that piercing it may have a therapeutic value. The ceremony typically takes place within the first or third year after birth and may be done simultaneously with the mundan, or head shaving, ritual.
  • Godparents
The tradition of inviting adult members of the family or community to serve as godparents for a child is found in several religious and cultural traditions around the world, but most prominently in Catholicism. The chosen godparent typically holds the baby during their baptism ceremony. As Jesuit priest, Rev. James Martin, explained to The Huffington Post, “The question asked in the Catholic sacrament of baptism is a good one: ‘Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?’ So it's less an honor given to a friend, or a kind of ‘reward’ for a relative, than an important duty asked of a trusted faithful person."
  • First words
Muslims believe that the adhan, or call to prayer ("God is great, there is no God but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Come to prayer.") should be the first words a newborn baby hears. The prayer is typically whispered into the right ear of the child by his or her father.
  • Family shrine
In Shinto tradition, parents and grandparents take the baby to visit their family shrine, a local place of worship, within 30 to 100 days after birth as a way of welcoming them as a new adherent. The ceremony is called a miyamairi and is viewed as an opportunity to present the baby to the deities and ask for their protection on behalf of the child.
  • Introduction to community
Sikhs frequently welcome new babies into their communities with great fanfare. Parents visit their local gurdwara, or temple, with the baby as soon as possible following the birth, typically within forty days. At the temple, a priest opens the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh faith, to a random page and reads a passage aloud. The family chooses a name by using the first letter of the hymn on the page opened. The baby's name is then announced to the congregation. Afterward, a sweet dish made from flour, semolina, butter and sugar is distributed among the congregation as a celebratory treat.
  • Something sweet
Many Hindu and Muslim communities believe that an infant's first taste should be something sweet "so that the baby speaks sweetly," as one Bangladeshi patient told researchers. In Islam, this is done by rubbing either a softened date or a bit of honey into the baby's upper palate. Hindus typically use honey exclusively for the ritual, called Jatakarma.
  • Naming ceremonies
Many religious and cultural traditions have some form of ceremony surrounding the naming of a newborn. After all, everyone has to have a name, and names often carry spiritual significance. In Judaism, baby's are often given both Hebrew and secular names. During the ceremony, the parents announce the name and its significance to them, and blessings are said to acknowledge that the child has entered into a covenant with God. Ashkenazic Jews, those of European ancestry, typically select a name to commemorate a deceased relative. Sephardic Jews, those of Spanish and Middle Eastern ancestry, often name their children after living relatives.