Childhood Samskaras (बाल्यावस्थे संस्काराः)

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Samskaras performed at each developmental milestone that a child crosses starting from birth are well recorded and celebrated every dharmik household. Every stage establishes his religious, social and cultural identity. There are at least five to eight such samskaras which mark the major developmental stages that a developing child crosses until the age of 5-7 years. Thus childhood samskaras are very important social and medically important sacraments prescribed in various texts. The instruments and the substances that were employed in the rituals followed in these sacraments had their own social, cultural and symbolic significance, of unity, strength, mental development, and medical basis.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

We have seen that the pre-natal samskaras primarily focus on conception, health, engendering and protection of both the mother and foetus. The Post-natal Saṁskāras seen in broader sense, were the progressive steps in the life of a child, marking every important stage of his or her life. Every stage establishes the religious, social and cultural identity of the child. Every single Saṁskāra highlights the transition of physical and mental development of the child to the next level of the growth chart. Many important events in the life of a child are recorded through celebrations in the family in a festive manner. Along with the festivities, embedded in these rituals are the social, cultural, spiritual and medical aspects of daily life which are becoming insignificant in the present day society.

We have at least five samskaras starting from birth till the time when a child enters into the Brahmacharyaashrama by getting initiated through the Upanayana Samskara. These childhood samskaras are

  1. Jatakarma (जातकर्म)
  2. Namakaranam (नामकरणम्)
  3. Nishkramana Samskara (निष्क्रमणम्)
  4. Upaveshana Samskara (उपवेशन संस्कारः)
  5. Annaprashana (अन्नप्राशनम्)
  6. Chaulam (चौलम्)
  7. Karnavedhana (कर्णवेधन)

Some of these are not classified under the Shodasa Samskaras and have become customary rather than of spiritual significance. Some of them have significance in Ayurvedic health systems.

बाल्यावस्थे संस्काराः ॥ Post-natal Samskaras

The birth of a child itself holds great cultural significance. So the event is marked both by requests of blessings as well as protection of the helpless newborn. Jātakarma is the first of such Saṁskāras categorized under the group post-natal Saṁskāras, which is observed right at the birth of a child. Birth was considered to be a much leveraged event owing to its importance in paying off the religious debt of the forefathers, called Pitṛ Ṛna, whilst sons were born and getting the merit of giving away the highest donation, kanya-dana whilst the daughters were, holds much relevance in this context of Jātakarma. The recognition and identity must have been one of the biggest challenges of the mankind once the evolution reached at its high. Naming each individual for separate identity was biggest saving grace which soon became tradition all over the habitation zones in this world. Thus came into being the activities related to Namakarana. We find two aspects of the naming in ancient India, one being the composition of the name and other the ceremonies and rituals associated with it.[1]

From the confinement of the nine months in the womb to the confinement of Sutikāgṛha for ten days and then to the house and finally this clause in true sense could be related to the ceremony of the Niṣkramaṇa when it was chosen to expose the child to the outer world, which was considerably huge and gigantic for a new-born child, hence ceremonial introduction was recommended rather than being desired.[1]

Food is the most important ingredient of the matter that forms our body that hosts our life. Food gives us nutrition and energy that in turn ensures our sustenance. The child in womb derives its nutrition from the mother but once outside, it has to sustain on external sources of nutrition. Annaprāśaṇa ceremony was the first ceremonial phase when the substitute food was introduced to the child for the first time. Chudakaraṇa Saṁskāra is popular by the name of Muṅdana in present times and quite popular in most of the parts of India; this refers tonsure ceremony. It is also referred to as Chaulam or Kaula or even Kudakarana in some of the texts. It is one of the ceremonies which is performed with quite passion and enthusiasm. But mode of performing might differ with geographical variation in India. The ceremony of Chudakaraṇa is historically and culturally very important. More from the perspective of cleanliness and hygiene, the tonsure ceremony gained popularity and a religious as well cultural outlook was given to it. Boring the limbs has been tradition in the ancient societies of the world and it is preserved till date. In the civilized world the savages were distinguished with the multiple boring of the limbs and the organs. But the tradition also grew common in the civilized world when the boring of ears began of course in more sophisticated and refined way. It is historically tough to trace as to when this practice started but what can be opined about it is that it might have been for wearing ornaments that ears were bored, which was a common practice in ancient India was well among both men and women. Karṇavedhana Saṁskāra had medical significance as well though it has yet to be researched completely. In present times the boring of ears has been restricted to females only with the purpose of wearing ornaments; only in few cases or in some traditional societies is it observed by males as well.[1]

Some of these such as Nishkramana and Karnavedhana have not been mentioned as part of Shodasa Samskaras.