Karnavedhana Samskara (कर्णवेधन संस्कारः)
Karnavedhana Samskara (Samskrit: कर्णवेधनसंस्कारः or कर्णवेध) is one of the Samskaras of childhood practiced in Sanatana Dharma. The term 'Karnavedhana' suggests piercing of the ear. Thus, it is the samskara wherein, the child's ear lobe is pierced. Ancient acharyas have elaborately discussed about when this samskara is performed, how it is done and all other relevant aspects. Among Ayurveda scholars, Acharya Vagbhata in Ashtanga Samgraha describes this samskara and the health related aspects of it in detail. All other samhitas (treatises) have also mentioned about this and considered this an important rite of passage.
Grhyasutras are silent on Karṇavedha and nor are there frequent references found in the Vedic and Post-Vedic literature. The slight reference to the boring of ears in Atharvaveda is not enough to qualify it as a ceremony, because it is less known that in what sense was the term used, and it never implied a specific ceremony. So, it can be concluded that the practice of boring the ears might have existed for centuries together but not as a ceremony rather a common practice with less cultural and religious significance and function. Vyasa Smrti is one of the Smrtis which mentions Karnavedha as one of the sixteen samskaras.
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. But decoration was not a single motive of the Karṇavedha Saṁskāra, it had medical significance as well. Suśruta regards the boring of ears with dual purpose of decoration and protection against the diseases.
Ashtanga samgraha is one of the highly referred Ayurveda treatise authored by Vrddha Vagbhata. Karnavedhana samskara has been described in first adhyaya (Chapter) of section named uttaasthana in it. Also Acharya Sushruta discusses in brief about this samskara in Sushruta Samhita sutrasthanam. The details are as below,
संस्कारकालः॥ Time of samskara
Karnavedhana is one of the post-natal samskaras performed in early childhood. The right time to perform this samskara has been described in terms of age of child, day in a calendar and external climate at that point of time.
षट्सप्ताष्टममासेषु नीरुजस्य शुभेऽहनि । कर्णौ हिमागमे विद्ध्येद्धात्र्यङ्कस्थस्य सान्त्वयन् ।।
It is advised that, ear piercing is to be done when the child is of 6/7/8 months old. It should be performed when the child is not suffering form any other illness or pain. An auspicious day should be selected when the climate outside is cold. Acharya Sushruta says that preferably the samskara should be performed in shukla paksha i.e. in the brighter half of the lunar cycle.
Elsewhere it is mentioned that Karnavedha is performed before the Upanayana samskara. It is said that without having the ears pierced a person is not eligible to perform Shraddha karma for the ancestors. According to Devala, even seeing a brahman whose ears are not pierced, and the sun rays do not pass through them, causes the loss of punya and such a person should not be invited to Shraddha karma.
However, many texts mention that this samskara has to be performed in the early years of the child. Viramitrodaya mentions a few of them.
- According to Brhaspati Karnavedha has to be performed in the tenth, twelfth or sixteenth day after birth. जन्मतो दशमे वाह्नि द्वादशे वाथ षोडशे।
- According to Acharya Garga, sixth, seventh, eighth and twelfth months are suitable for this samskara.
- According to Shripati, this samskara has to be performed when the child is playing in the mother's lap and teething has not started.
- According to Katyayana sutras, the suitable time to perform karnavedha is in the third or fifth year of the child.
संस्कारविधिः॥ The procedure
The needle to be used for piercing the ear lobe is to be made of different metals based on the varna of the child; a gold one for Kshatriya child, a silver one for a brahmana and vaishya child and a metal needle for a shudra child.
In Ayurveda texts we find the following aspects regarding the procedure.
- Vrddha vagbhata in Ashtanga samgraha and Sushruta have advised a skilled Vaidya to perform this procedure.
- Auspicious rituals and holy recitations should be performed before beginning the samskara.
- Vaidya is advised to take a needle in right hand and hold the ear lobule of the child with left hand.
- The child should be held in lap and his ear lobule should be held against sunlight.
- For a male child, right ear is to be pierced while for the female child, left ear lobule is to be pierced first.
कर्णवेधनस्थानम्॥ The site of ear piercing
The site of ear piercing should be carefully selected because pricking at wrong site might be troublesome for the child and lead to illness. The directions on hoe to select the site have been given in the Ashtanga samgraha as below,
विध्येद्दैवकृते छिद्रे सकृदेवर्जु लाघवात्| नोर्ध्वं न पार्श्वतो नाधः सिरास्तत्र हि संश्रिताः|
- When the ear lobule is held in a position against the sunlight, one can see a point where the sunrays appear to be directly passing through in an ear lobule. This point is called as Daivakrt cchidra and it is the point where piercing done doesn't cause any adverse effect and hence is the right site of pricking.
- The point of piercing should be in the middle of the ear lobule and slightly towards the cheek area.
- Increasing of pierced hole should be done by oil soaked cotton or small Nimba (Azadirachta indica) twig or smooth ear ring made of lead. These modes to increase the pierced hole offer lubrication and prevention of wound infection.
- Holding ear lobule against sun visualizes course of fine vessels, to avoid bleeding.
Ayurveda scholars have denoted that there are 2 different types of vessels in the ear lobule. Those have been named as Kalila, marmarika and rakta. These vessels when inadvertently punctured while ear piercing might lead to multiple ill effects like inflammation, severe pain, fever, swelling, burning sensation, neck stiffness and even sometimes spasmodic contractions. Thus one needs to be very careful while selecting the site for ear piercing. If the ear is pierced at the right site as described earlier, it does not bleed and doesn't cause pain or even inflammation.
Ayurveda scholars have described some conditions when Karnavedhana is contraindicated. Those are as below,
- When the child is suffering form indigestion
- When there is excess of malas accumulated in the child's body (A vaidya can assess this)
- When the climate outside is very hot.
The piercing done in contraindicated situations can lead to adverse effects and impaired healing of the wound.
Those who already have some health issues related to the ear lobule are advised to apply oil daily on the ear lobes. Regular abhyanga (oil massage) provides strength to the ear lobe tissue and reduces pain.
कर्णवेधनस्य हेतवः॥ The objective behind ear piercing
रक्षाभूषणनिमित्तं बालस्य कर्णौ विध्येते | (Suhs. Samh. 16.3)
The ear piercing should be done for raksha (protection) and aabhushana (wearing ornaments). Once the ear hole generated on ear piercing is found to be in healthy state it is suggested to wear ornaments in it.
The ear rings made up of gold studded with ratna (precious stones) should be worn in the ear.
कर्णदुर्विद्धलक्षणानि॥ Treatment of complications resulting from wrong ear piercing
If the prick of the needle happens at the wrong place or in wrong direction, if the wick inserted is thicker than the hole or if the individual is already having imbalance of doshas in body then complications of ear piercing may develop. If the pain or swelling develops in the ear after piercing then, the cotton wick introduced into the ear hole should be immediately removed first.
The wound that develops as a result, is advised to be treated with a medicated lepam (pack) over it. The mixture of herbs with ghee and honey should be applied to fasten the healing of the wound.
The herbs used are, Yawa (Barley), Eranda (castor roots), yashti (licorice) and manjishtha (rubia cordifolia). The mixture of these along with ghee should be repeated applied over the wound.
Once the wound heals completely again the ear piercing is to be performed appropriately and with more caution.
Ear piercing as one of the 16 samskaras is widely practiced in Bharata. Ayurveda literature only speaks about 2 chief purposes for karnavedhana viz,. to wear ornaments having gems and for protection. Wearing some specific substances in this ear hole might be proving beneficial in terms of protection of the child from external forces like grahas, Other than this probably no other specific reason for karnavedhana has ben given in mainstream Ayurveda literature. However the claims have been made by many that this piercing is probably done to enhance the intellect, regulate the menstrual cycle or prevent all types of illnesses etc.
At some places ear piercing is correlated with auricular acupuncture. But these are not completely comparable. Auricular acupuncture is a commonly practiced technique involving the stimulation of specific points on the ear. It is used for a wide range of indications, and it is especially useful to relieve pain, calm the mind, treat allergies and infectious diseases, regulate endocrine system disorders, and treat chronic disease and functional disorders (Yajuan Wang OMD, LAc, in Micro-Acupuncture in Practice, 2009) So it is modality of treatment used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and it is practiced as an alternative therapy to treat diseases not to prevent any. In karnavedhana only one time ear piercing has been advised and that too only on one specific point on ear.
- Chahal, Mandeep (2020) Ph.D Thesis Titled: Samskaras in the Grihyasutras historical account of Jatakarma Upanyana Vivaha and Antyeshti. (Chapter 3)
- Shukla, Sacchidanand (2008) Hindu Dharm ke Solah Sanskar. Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan.
- Ashtanga Samgraha (Utarasthanam Adhyaya 1 Sutra 38)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 16 Sutra 3)