Samskaras (Samskrit : संस्काराः) are the rites prescribed by the vaidika and dharmika texts either for purification (removal of a papa) or generating or infusing some qualities by which a person becomes eligible to perform some more rites. In other words Samskaras are for cleansing the mind and body and leading consequently to a healthy, happy and peaceful life in this world and Moksha after death. Of the worldly beings, man is the only creature, who has the ability to do good and bad karma (papa and punya karmas) with the direction of Viveka-Buddhi.
परिचयः ॥ Introduction
Indian tradition firmly stands on four pillars, viz. Dharma, Artha (money and other mundane matters), Kama (married life) and Moksha (renouncing the world and studying about Brahman to arrest the cycle of birth and death). The ultimate purpose of samskaras is simply to generate Vividisha (a desire/taste in Vedānta and attain Moksha). Samskaras involve Grhyaagni and are described mostly in Kalpa Vedanga texts. Thus they involve domestic yajnas and not the Shrauta yajnas of the Vedas.
व्युतपत्तिः ॥ Etymology and Definition
The term Samskara is pregnant with meaning and hence untranslatable. Samskara in the present article refers to any rite prescribed by scriptures either for purification (removal of papa) or generating, infusing some qualities by which a person becomes eligible or qualified to perform some rites. Viramitrodayam defines a Samskara thus:
आत्मशरीरान्यतरनिष्ठः विहित क्रिया जन्य: अतिशयविशेषः संस्कारः।। (Viramitrodaya, Vol. 1, Page 132)
Rites and observances aiming at producing a peculiar (an indefinable kind of merit) virtue or quality that is connected with mind or body is called Samskara (the rite for such a virtue or quality is also called Samskara). Samskaras refine, condition and purify the psychosomatic processes.
The term Samskara is defined in various ways according to the context in which it is used based on the subject matter. Basically a Samskara is a मानसकर्म्म इति मेदिनी ॥ an activity pertaining to the manas (mind) according to Medini.
- Mimamsakas speak of samskaras as Dravya-dharma: प्रोक्षणादिजन्य-संस्कारो यज्ञांगपुरोडाशेष्विति द्रव्यधर्मः। Panch-bhusamskaras and the Paaka samskaras by which they mean sweeping, sprinkling and purifying the yajnashala, and boiling or preparing purodasa and other cooked items for the yajna.
- Naiyyayikas speak of samskaras न्यायमते गुणविशेषः । as a quality; in the sense of self-productive quality or faculty of impression on the manas recognised by the Vaiseshika darsana as one of the 24 gunas.
- Advaita vedantins regard samskaras as the false attribution (mithya aarop) of physical action on the Atman (स्नानाचमनादि जन्याः संस्कारा देहे उत्पद्यमानानि तदभिधानानि जीवे कल्प्यन्ते।)
- Sahityakaras use the term in a wide sense -
- in the sense of education, cultivation, training, refinement
- perfection, polishing
- gentleness, completeness, and grammatical purity
- solving, clarifying
- splenderous and embelishing
- impression, mould, operation and influence
- Tarka samgraha calls Samskara as faculty of recollection and that which influences memory, an impression (संस्कारजन्यं ज्ञानं स्मृतिः)
- Manu calls a samskara as a purifying act, a dharmik injunction or a sanctifying procedure (Manu 2.26)
Cleansing or purification is the ulterior goal of Samskaras. The activities (rituals, rites, siddhantas) which ultimately lead to the Atmashuddhi of a person by purification of sharira or body (includes the pancha-karmendriyas and pancha-jna-indriyas) and manas or antahkarana (chittashuddhi) are called Samskaras.Grhyasutras classify the entire domestic rituals under the names of different classes of yajnas. The bodily samskaras are included in the list of the Pakayajnas, for example, Paraskara Grhyasutra divides the Pakayajnas into four classes, the huta (हुतः), the ahuta (अहुतः), the prahuta (प्रहुतः) and praashita (प्राशित).
चत्वारः पाकयज्ञा हुतोऽहुतः प्रहुतः प्राशित इति १ catvāraḥ pākayajñā huto'hutaḥ prahutaḥ prāśita iti 1 पञ्चसु बहिःशालायां विवाहे चूडाकरण उपनयने केशान्ते सीमन्तोन्नयन इति २ (Para. Grhy. Sutr. 1.4.1-2)
Where the offerings are offered into the fire it is called Huta class of pakayajna. This class includes the Samskaras from Vivaha to the Simantonnayana (hair-parting). Where after making the offerings to the fire, gifts are given to the Brahmans and others it is called Prahuta class of pakayajna. This group contains the Samskaras from the Jatakarma (birth ceremonies) to the Chaula-karma (tonsure). The yajnas where after making offerings to the fire and giving gifts to the Brahmans, one receives presents from others are classified under Ahuta class of pakayajna. The Upanayana and Samavartana samskaras are included in this list. Thus here what are later on, called the Samskaras, are treated as Pakayajnas.
Number of Samskaras
The number of samskaras have been enumerated from ten to fiftytwo and so on depending on various traditions. Grhyasutras and Smrti texts give varying lists of these sacraments. In later lists, we find other Samskaras particularly that of death and yagnas being added. The question as to whether a few Samskaras were increased to have elaborate rituals or many Samskaras were reduced to have definite and limited numbers suiting to the requirements of people is a debatable one. Generally, it is found that south Indian tradition contains elaborate ceremonies for death and cremation, Later, slowly, the north Indian tradition appears to have incorporated these into their Samskara list. For example, the rituals of Ekadasha, Dvadasha, Sapindikarana followed by the monthly shraddha etc mentioned in the Garudapurana are not performed in some communities. But, in South India, even in remote villages after death and cremation/burial, the 13th day or 16th day ceremonies are elaborately performed.
The Extent and Number
There is difference of opinion as to the number of Samskaras across the various texts.
The Samskaras in the strict sense fall within the purview of the Grhyasutras. They generally deal with the bodily samskaras beginning with Vivaha and ending with Samavartana, a majority of them omit the funeral. Only the Paraskara, Ashvalayana and the Baudhayana describe the funeral. The number of samskaras given in the Grhyasutras range from eleven to eighteen, with a few name changes, omissions and additions.
Dharmasutras are texts that are primarily associated with laws and customs, hence they do not elaborate on Samskaras. They contain rules about the Upanayana, Vivaha, Upakarma, Utsarjana, Anadhyayanas and Asoucha.
Gautama Dharmasutra enumerated forty Samskaras along with the eight Atmagunas. The samskaras include five Mahayajnas, seven Pākayajñas, seven Haviryajñas and seven Somayāgas.
चत्वारिंशत् संस्कारैः संस्कृतः ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 1.8.8)
Here the distinction between bodily Samskaras and Shrauta yajnas is not clearly demarcated. All the Shrauta yajnas described in the Brahmana texts and the Shrauta Sutras are intermixed with the Samskaras in the list given below. Haarita gives a classification where the yajnas described are to be taken as Daiva Samskaras and the other bodily samskaras at various occasions in human life are to be considered as Brahma Samskaras.
द्विविधः संस्कारो भवति ब्राह्मो दैवश्च । गर्भाधानादिः स्मार्तो ब्राह्मः। (Harita Dharmasutra)
Only the latter are to be taken in the sense of Samskaras. While the yajnas are indirectly purificatory in nature as mentioned in Bhagavadgita, their direct purpose was propitiation of devatas in different seasons.
यज्ञो दानं तपश्चैव पावनानि मनीषिणाम् ॥१८- ५॥ (Bhag. Gita. 18.5) संस्कारार्थं शरीरस्य यथाकालं यथाक्रमम् । । २.६६ । । (Manu. Smrt. 2.66)
The main objective of the bodily Samskaras was to sanctify the personality of the recipient. Many seasonal yajnas such as Chaitri and Asveyuji gradually transformed into popular feasts and rejoicings.
- 1. Garbhadhana
- 2. Pumsavana
- 3. Simantonnayana
- 4. Jatakarma
- 5. Namakarana
- 6. Annaprasana
- 7. Chaulam
- 8. Upanayana
- 9-12. Chatvari veda-vratas
- 13. Snana
- 14. Sahadharmacharini-samyoga (Vivaha)
- 15-19. Pancha Mahayajnas (Deva, Brahma, Pitr, Manushya, Bhuta yajnas)
- 20-26. Sapta Pakayajnas (Ashtaka, Parvana, Shraddha, Sravani, Agrahayani, Chaitri, Asvayuji)
- 27-33. Sapta Haviryajna (Agnyadheyam, Agnihotram, Darsa-paurnamasya, Chaturmasya, Agrayaneshti)
- 34-40. Sapta Somayajna (Agnistoma, Atyagnistoma, Uktha, Shodasi, Vajapeya, Atiratra, Aptoryama)
In the Smrti texts we see the gradual decline of the mention of Shrauta yajnas as well as the Daiva samskaras. We find the clear application of the term Samskaras to those bodily sacramental rites that were performed for sanctifying the personality of an individual. Some smrtikaras however include the Pakayajnas in their list of samskaras. According to Manu, the Smarta Samskaras or the Samskaras proper are thirteen in number from conception to death of a human being.
- 1. Garbhadhana
- 2. Pumsavana
- 3. Simantonnayana
- 4. Jatakarma
- 5. Namadheya
- 6. Niskramana
- 7. Annaprasana
- 8. Chudakarma
- 9. Upanayana
- 10. Keshanta
- 11. Samavartana
- 12. Vivaha
- 13. Smasana
Vyasa Smrti enumerates sixteen samskaras (shodasa samskaras) as follows
गर्भाधानं पुंसवनं सीमन्तो जातकर्म च । नामक्रियानिष्क्रमणेऽन्नाशनं वपनक्रिया || कर्णवेधो व्रतादेशो वेदारम्भक्रियाविधिः । केशान्त स्नानमुद्वाहो विवाहाग्निपरिग्रहः ॥ त्रेताग्निसंग्रहश्चेति संस्काराः षोडश स्मृता । (व्यास स्मृति १/१३-१५)
- 1. Garbhadhana
- 2. Pumsavana
- 3. Simantonnayana
- 4. Jatakarma
- 5. Namakriya (Namakarana)
- 6. Niskramana
- 7. Annaasana (Annaprasana)
- 8. Vapanakriya (Chudakarma)
- 9. Karnavedha
- 10. Vratadesha (Upanayana)
- 11. Vedarambhakriya
- 12. Keshanta
- 13. Vedasnana (Samavartana)
- 14. Vivaha
- 15. Vivaha-agniparigraha
- 16. Tretagni-sangraha
Yajnavalkya Smrti also enumerates the same samskaras as Manu, except Keshanta which was probably omitted owing to the decline of Vedic studies and its confusion with the Samavartana.
Gautama Smrti however gives the forty samskaras as per the tradition of its school even though they observe a steady decline of Daiva samskaras. Angira and Ashvalayana Smrti contains a list of twenty-five Samskaras including 7 Pakayajnas. Other Smrtis supply the list of sixteen Samskaras.
Treatises and Nibandhas
The medieval treatises such as Viramitrodaya and Smrtichandrika, generally devote one section to the Samskaras. They touch upon the lists of Gautama, Angira, Vyasa and Jatukarnya etc. A majority exclude the Daiva Samskaras. For example, the Viramitrodaya and Samskaramayukha quote the list of Gautama but they only deal with the Brahma or Smarta Samskaras from Garbhadhana to Vivaha. Thus the term Samskaras became established to mean only the bodily sacraments. Like the Smrtis they also exclude the Antyeshti or funeral ceremonies. The Nibandhas besides the classical Smarta Samskaras describe a large number of minor rites and worships which were popularly practiced as they were either offshoots or parts of the major Samskaras.
Paddhatis and Prayogas
The Paddhatis and the Prayogas also deal with only the Brahma Samskaras and leave the Daiva Samskaras altogether, partly because they have now become obsolete and partly the current Pakayajnas are described elsewhere. The funeral is always treated separately. The usual number of the Samskaras in them is from ten to thirteen (from Garbhadbana to Vivaha). Many of the Paddhatis are actually called “The Dashakarma-Paddhati" (of Ganapati, Narayana, Prthvidhara, Bhudeva etc) or ‘The Manual of Ten Ceremonies.’’ The funeral is always treated separately.
Classification of Samskaras
Samskaras can be grouped under the following heads broadly based on the age and stage of person he is in life.
- The Pre-natal Samskaras (जन्मात्पूर्वसंस्काराः) - Garbhadhana (गर्भाधानम्), Pumsavana (पुंसवनम्) and Simantam (सीमन्तः)
- The Childhood Samskaras (बाल्यावस्थे संस्काराः) - Jatakarma, Namakarana, Annaprashana, Chaulam are generally mentioned under the sixteen samskaras. There are others such as Nishkramana (First Outing), and Karnavedha (Boring the ear) samskaras which are performed in childhood.
- The Educational Samskaras (विद्याभ्याससंस्काराः) - Upanayana or Vratadesha, Vedarambha, Vedavratas, Keshanta, Samavartana, Upakarma etc fall into this category of samskaras.
- The Marriage Samskara (विवाहसंस्कारः) - Vivaha
- The Funeral Samskara (अन्त्येष्टिसंस्कारः) - Antyeshti
Many of them eg., the pre-natal samskaras and few of the childhood are not generally performed at present; so, they have become a thing of the past. The rest are performed at present by a few orthodox families only and, in a distorted form. The only current Samskaras are the Upanayana (Initiation), not performed by all the Dvijas today, the Vivaha (Marriage ceremonies) and the Antyeshti (Funeral Ceremonies).
Ashvalayana Smrti gives a classifies twenty-five samksaras based on the time they are performed. There are
- 16 - Naimittika Samskaras (occasional rites)
- 7 - Varshika Samskaras (rites to be performed once a year)
- 1 - Masika Samskara (rites to be performed once in a month)
- 1 - Nitya Samskara (rites to be performed everyday)
Antyesti or the funeral Samskara is not enumerated by Gautama 'in his long list of forty-eight Samskaras, it has been generally omitted by the Grhyasutras, the Dharmasutras and the Smrtis and neglected by later works bn the Samskaras. The reason underlying this exclusion or indifference was that the funeral was regarded as an inauspicious ceremony and it should not be described with auspicious ones. It was, perhaps, also due to the fact that the life history of an individual closes with the advent of death and the post-mortem ceremonies had no direct bearing on the cultivation of personality. Nevertheless, Antyesti was recognised as a Samskara. Some Grhyasutras describe it, Manu, Yajnyavalkya, Jatukarnya enumerate it in the list of the Samskaras.
We saw in the above section how the number of samksaras varied from time to time across texts. Finally, in the recent times, as mentioned in Samskaradipika, the following sixteen Samskaras have been deemed essential:
आधानपुंसवनसीमन्तजातनामान्नचोलकाः। मौञ्जीव्रतानि गोदानसमावर्तनविवाहकाः॥ ādhānapuṃsavanasīmantajātanāmānnacolakāḥ।mauñjīvratāni godānasamāvartanavivāhakāḥ॥ अन्त्यं चैतानि कर्माणि प्रोच्यन्ते षोडशैव तु। antyaṃ caitāni karmāṇi procyante ṣoḍaśaiva tu ।
- गर्भाधानम् ॥ Garbhadhanam
- पुंसवनम् ॥ Pumsavana
- सीमन्तः॥ Simanta
- जातकर्म॥ Jatakarma
- नामकरणम्॥ Namakarana
- अन्नप्राशनम्॥ Annaprashana
- चौलम्॥ Chaulam
- उपनयनम् ॥ Upanayana
- वेदव्रतानि॥ Vedavratas (4)
- समावर्तनम्॥ Samavartana
- गोदानम्॥ Godana
- विवाहः॥ Vivaha
- अन्त्येष्टिः॥ Antyesti
It should be noted that the three Samskaras, viz. Garbhadhanam, Puṃsavanam and Simantonnayanam, have to be performed before the birth of the child. Since they are for Garbhashuddhi (cleansing of the womb and embryo), they need not be repeated.
The Purpose of Shodasha Samskara-karmas
An investigation into the real purpose and significance of samskaras is fraught with many difficulties such as - the ages of time period elapsed since the start of these sacraments, popular superstitions surrounding them, along with a national sentiment trained to look only at the bright side of these sacraments (and ignore the negative aspects). But there are stubborn failings of the modern mind too. It is filled with prejudices labelling anything ancient must be superstitious. It fails to understand the strict discipline of the ancients and takes a suspicious view of the spiritual values associated with the sacraments. Keeping these viewpoints a careful study of the Samskaras should be undertaken overcoming, with sympathy, the shortfalls in human nature through the ages of development.
We can broadly divide the purpose of the Samskaras into two classes. The first class is popular and superstitious, which is motived by unquestioned faith and naive simplicity of the unsophisticated mind. The second class is priestly (pertaining to rituals) and cultural. Its origin is due to conscious forces governing the development and evolution of the society, when human beings try to improve upon nature.
The popular and superstitious believed in the superhuman influences. They thought that these influences (both hostile and beneficial ones) could interfere in every important occasion in a man's life. The hostile influences such as bhutas, pisachas (loosely translated as spirits and goblins) rakshasas which caused unfavorable hindrances were removed by propitiation, deception or by threatening them. The householder also invoked the help of deities, to drive away foul influences. Specific physical actions (like combing the hair at the time of Simantonnayana, shaking the body, making noise etc), material things (water is used to remove physical impurities as well as warding off pisachas) weapons (a staff given to the student during Upanayana helps in protection) were other devices used to remove unwanted supernatural influences. In addition to having ways to remove hostile forces, favorable influences were invited and attracted for the benefit of the recipient of a particular samskara. Presiding devatas for each occasion are invoked and are pleased so that they confer blessings on the man. Men also helped themselves by various other means such as using touch, smell, consuming certain foods, anointment and sight of auspicious things. Avoidance of ugly and inauspicious sights, giving up contact with impure persons, certain utterances, and avoiding certain occasions such as death was also practiced to preserve the purity of an individual.
Apart from the popular purpose, we have the cultural purpose which introduces us to the higher purpose and sanctity of life in Samskaras. According to Manu,
वैदिकैः कर्मभिः पुण्यैर्निषेकादिर्द्विजन्मनाम् । कार्यः शरीरसंस्कारः पावनः प्रेत्य चेह च । । २.२६
गार्भैर्होमैर्जातकर्म चौडमौञ्जीनिबन्धनैः । बैजिकं गार्भिकं चैनो द्विजानां अपमृज्यते । । २.२७ (Manu. Smrt. 2.27)
Meaning: The bodily Samskaras of the dvijas (twice-born) sanctify this life as well as the other. By performing the Samskaras, garbhadhana (conception), jatakarma (birth rites), choulakarma (tonsure), and Upanayana, seminal and uterine impurities are washed away.
Impurity from the body required for procreation was removed by Samskaras. The whole body was consecrated to make it a fit dwelling place for the soul. No one without Upanayana was considered for Vedic study. Thus some samskaras are a gateway for higher knowledge.
Social privileges and rights were also connected with the Samskaras. The Upanayana was a passport for admission into vedic studies. They supported the varna and ashrama systems. To mark the end of education and for entering the Grhasthaashrama one had to perform the Samavartana Samskara. The Vivaha Samskara entitled a person to perform all kinds yajnas.
Samskaras are the source of laukik prayojana or materialistic purposes. They are a source of wealth, food grains, cattle, progeny, health, longevity, prosperity, abundance, strength and intellect for a person. As these pertain to the activities in a house, the things related to Grhasthaashrama also form an important purpose of these sacraments. These sacraments thus fall under the category of Kamyakarmas where a prayer is offered to deities to procure desired worldly things required for a Grhastha. For example during Simantonnayana, the husband asks his wife the questions - what do you foresee among these, children, cattle, soubhagya (auspiciousness) and my longevity?
किम् पश्यसि प्रजां पशून् सौभाग्यं मह्य दीर्घायुष्यं पत्युः। (SamaVeda Mantra Brahmana 1.5.1-4)
From the material purpose of Samskaras, in course of time the moral and ethical purposes emanated. Gautama after enumerating the forty samskaras gives, 'eight good qualities of the Atma' namely, daya (compassion) towards all beings, kshanti (forbearance), freedom from envy, soucha (purity), calmness, right behaviour, and freedom from greed and covetousness.
दया सर्वभूतेषु क्षान्तिर् अनसूया शौचम् अनायासोमङ्गलम् अकार्पण्यम् अस्पृहेति ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 8.24)
The Samskaras themselves were never regarded as ends in themselves. The rituals involved gradual ripening of the moral values. Thus samskaras were not just mindless rituals as mentioned in modern interpretations; they prescribed specific rules of conduct for man in different stages of life, inculcated ethical values and morally uplifted a person towards the ultimate goal of life, namely Moksha. They were holistic in that they motivated a person to perform karma for worldly sustenance along with upliftment for moksha.
यस्य तु खलु संस्काराणाम् एकदेशोऽप्य् अष्टाव् आत्मगुणा अथ स ब्रह्मणः सायुज्यं सालोक्यं चगच्छति ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 8.26)
Gautama adds that one who performs the samskaras, and develops the eight good qualities will attain Brahman.
Samskaras influence a person and thereby a society in two ways, by
- Siddhanta (सिद्धान्तम्) - By knowing the siddhanta behind each sacrament, a person's mind gradually deliberates over the concepts and he strengthens his faith in the prescribed vidhis. Once he understands the admissibility of the concept he is inspired to stay on the dharmik path; Samskaras are a guide, warning a person to stay on his disciplined path of life. A person may particularly resist or disagree with any particular part of a ritual but does not deny the sacred environment created by the whole sacrament.
- Abhyasa (अभ्यासम्) - Samskaras also channel a person's activities through Abhyasa or practice. Through repetitive actions unconsciously the mind is also influenced over time. Innately he moulds himself according to the values and opinions of society. Through Abhyasa a framework of ideal lifestyle is created in a person's life. Hence it can be said that Sanatana Dharma is less of a religion and more of Bharatiya Jeevana vidhana.
Thus together through the siddhantas and abhyasa, social cultural and dharmik framework and and individual's personality is strengthened. Such activities and rituals keep out the unnecessary thoughts and prevent falling in the luring trap of the sense organs.
The Samskaras cover the full span of life, from birth to death of man. They influence and impress the individual through the Atmagunas and the after-life thereby supporting the siddhanta of reincarnation, one of the unique aspects of Sanatana Dharma. Covering each important step in the life of a human being they produce suitable impressions from the very beginning of one’s life. The Samskaras give a physical, mental and social guidance that directed the personality of an individual according to his growth. So a Hindu was required to live a life of discipline and his energies flowed into a well-guarded and purposive channel.
The Garbhadhana Samskara was performed at the proper time when the couple were physically fit and in a healthy condition, when they knew each other’s heart and had intense desire for possessing a child. Their energies where wholly concentrated towards the art of procreation. The yajnas and veda mantras provided a pure and congenial atmosphere, an act which was according to the norms of the nature or Prkrti. The greater goal of a couple's union is for the creation of a good citizens who served the society.
Throughout pregnancy the wife is guarded and protected against evil influences and her conduct was regulated to influence the growing child. It has been scientifically proven that the state of mind of the mother influences the unborn child in shaping his personality. At birth the father conducts Jatakarma, wishing for the new-born to be firm, strong and grow into an intellectual man. Every milestone of the child's development is an occasion of joy and felicitation in the family. Optimism and appreciation are thrown into the atmosphere of the budding child gradually shaping his or her mental faculties positively. These faculties are further enhanced with the Chudakarma and educational samskaras. The child is prescribed his duties and responsibilities are explained prior to his mind and body being encumbered with book knowledge and school discipline. The Upanayana and other educational samksaras are filled with prescriptions where the emotions and desires and will of the boy were melted, preparing him for a disciplined and austere life in the upcoming Grhasthaashrama. He also undergoes complete training for a rich and cultured life ahead. Marriage was a developed code of eugenics and the ceremony itself was to prepare the couple for their new activities. The yajnas and vratas prescribed for a grhastha were introduced to remove the selfish nature inherent of an individual and make him realize his role in the whole community. All these samskaras during life help the atma in its journey after life. While some believe that these sacraments are matters of faith, one cannot ignore the cultural motive underlying them. By making the samksaras compulsory the ancient sociologist seers aimed at evolving a type of humanity uniform in culture and character, having the same ideal in life. The followers of Sanatana Dharma were successful in this attempt forming a peculiar race and still living as a nation.
Again spirituality is the chief feature of any phase or activity as per the principles of Sanatana Dharma. Samskaras are not an exception. Samskaras represent not just the outside ceremonial performances but convey more than the outward visible activities. One who undergoes the samskaras look beyond the ceremonial performances, feel something invisible which sanctify his whole being. It can only be experienced and enjoyed, and cannot be demonstrated or evidenced on paper. They are a gateway to spiritual Sadhana for an inward calmness. Samskaras served as the bridge between the ascetic (Jains, Buddhists etc) and the materialistic conception of the body (Charvakas and Vamamargis). While the former school advocated worship of the Atman, discarding the body, the later school stressed on the body and denied the spiritual realm of a man's life. Samskaras make the body a valuable possession, not a thing to be discarded, but sanctified so as to enable it to be a fitting instrument of the spiritual intelligence embodied in it. They were a gradual training in attaining the goals of human life. Thus we have a balance between the karmas and their connection with the spirituality. It is a way of life in which the worldly activities are reconciled with higher realization.
Ayurveda treatises have described the technical procedures done under Samskaras. They have primarily focused on the health benefits of samskaras. One can find details of the procedures performed under Samskaras in Ayurveda samhitas. These techniques, methods and details are designed with an aim of enabling the person undergoing samskaras to adopt to the new upcoming phase of the life. Since Ayurveda considers any person as not just a physical body but a union of body-mind and life energy, the processes have been planned and designed considering all the 3 components. For example, a newborn baby struggles to adjust from intra-uterine to the extrauterine life immediately after birth. Therefore under Jatakarma Samskara, Acharya Charaka and Sushruta discuss about the ways for initial stabilization of a baby. Some of the procedures discussed under Jatakarma samskara in Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are similar to neonatal resuscitation interventions performed at the time of birth to support the establishment of breathing and circulation of a newborn. Most of the samskaras performed in prenatal period comprise of using specific herbs or procedures to promote the wellbeing of a baby in womb, prevent pregnancy related complications and to get a superior quality progeny. A systematic and scientific way of introducing new things in the world to the child has been proposed in Annaprashana Samskara. Ayurveda acharyas have clearly described which types of foods should be introduced and what should be the sequence etc. Thus Ayurveda looks at samskaras as the procedures that will enable that individual develop necessary qualities to adopt to the new phase of life or changes that are going to happen for the 1st time in the life.
Constituents of Samskaras
From the discussion about purposes of Samskara it can be observed that there are commonsense elements, secularism and spiritualism, magical and medical aspects - all of which have lent grace and gravity to the whole affair. Under the canopy of Samskaras, the recipient felt himself exalted, elevated and sanctified. There were definite reasons behind this spiritual outlook. Several elements and constituents are mixed together in a Samskara to create this spiritual atmosphere. What is deemed as very essential in almost all the Samskaras is the preservation of fire and water.
- Agni used in these grhyasamksaras is laukika agni.
- Water has the natural capacity of cleansing the body off the impure elements. It is used for bath, sipping of water (achamana) and sprinkling etc in the samskaras. Achamana is strictly essential in all religious acts.
- Homa is necessary in numerous rites and ceremonies.
- Prayers and blessings are noticed in almost all the samskaras.
- Propitiation of devatas by yajnas
- Use of certain objects which symbolize certain concepts. For example, Asmarohana (ascending on the stone) in Upanayana and Vivaha because stone was regarded as symbol of fixity and firmness.
- We find significant prohibitions of some Samskaras, such as during natural calamity, political revolution, death etc when some samskaras are postponed. The rationale is that in all such cases proper mental makeup is wanting.
- A tendency of observing the supernatural powers (astrological) such as stars and planets, with an intention of taking precautionary steps.
- Signaling of the auspicious day (Punyahvachana) is another constituent of the samskaras.
- Feeding the Brahmanas, is generally regarded as essential part in all the samksaras.
- Use of samudrika, marks on the body for certain samskaras such as vivaha is observed.
- Pomp and grandeur, attendance of large number of persons in most samskaras are parts rather than constituents of samskaras.
Few ritualistic parts include the homas, Ganapatipuja, Punyahvachana, Naandishraddha, and Matrkapuja apart from performing aachamana and uttering the sankalpa, pranayama and other basic operations.
We see an interesting explanation of why should a person undergo a Samskara. Many followers of Sanatana Dharma believe that Samskaras are a part of expression of human nature, the various emotions, the joys, felicitations and sorrows in different times of human life. They are a part of man's nature. Man receives many things from nature, but he does not use everything as it is. To make it useful for his purpose it becomes necessary to remove the faults (Doshas) it contains. Further to use it he adds some values (Gunas) into it to overcome its inherent limitations. Thus we have three specific goals with which we embellish a particular thing (Samskarana), namely,
- दोषमार्जनम् । Dosha Marjana - remove the faults (mala-apanayana)
- गुणाधानम् । Guna Adhana - add the (good) qualities (atishaya-adhana)
- हीनाङ्गपूर्तिः । Hinanga poorti - fill the gaps of deficiencies (nyunanga-pooti)
Consider for example preparation of a jewel studded golden crown. Found mixed with dirt and mud in its natural form, a gold block is first processed to remove them. To add the shine and lustre the internal defects are removed by processing it in a kiln. In the fire, it gains lustre thereby removing all the impurities. The goldsmith then beats it around and shapes it into a crown. Now it becomes a thing of quality. Further gaps in beauty and appearance are fulfilled by studding it with precious gems. Thus after the three kinds of samskaras a block of gold is transformed into a beautiful crown, an heirloom.
Similar is the case of a shirt. Nature only provides cotton to us, but is it in a useful wearable form to us? No. By a variety of processes we remove the impurities and deficiencies to make a piece of cloth. A tailor fashions it out in the shape and size of a usable shirt. Such is the case of all natural things which undergo samksara (a positive transformative process) to attain wholeness, a completeness. It is but natural that a human being originating from the union of a man and woman, also requires a purificatory samskara to attain mental and physical wholeness.
Samskara is a process by which the bodily and mental doshas (faults) are cleansed and purified thereby a person attains holistic spirituality naturally as a consequence. Ashvalayana gives a Drshtanta (an example) to understand this process.
चित्रं कर्म यथाऽनेकैरंगैरुन्मील्यते शनैः। ब्राह्मण्यमापिं तद्वत् स्यात् संस्कारैर्विधिपूर्वकैः ॥
Meaning: Just like by gradually spreading various colors repeatedly in a sketch brings about lustre and liveliness in it, so also by the practice of various prescribed samskaras, Dvijas also become radiant with special qualities.
निषेकात् बौजिकं चैनः गार्भिकं चापमृज्यते। क्षेत्रसंस्कारसिद्धिश्च गर्भाधानफलं तथा॥
गर्भे भवेच्च पुंसूतेः पुंस्त्वस्य प्रतिपादनम्। निषेकफलवत् ज्ञेयं फलं सीमन्तकर्मणः॥
गर्भाम्बुपानजो दोषः जातात्सर्वोऽपि नश्यति। आयुर्वर्चोऽभिवृद्धिश्च सिद्धिर्व्यवहृतिस्तथा॥
नामकर्मफलं त्वेतत् समुद्दिष्टं मनीषिभिः। अन्नाशनान्मातृगर्भमलाशादपि शुद्ध्यति॥
बलायुर्वर्चोवृद्धिश्च चूडाकर्मफलं स्मृतम्। उपनीतेः फलं त्वेतत् द्विजतासिद्धिपूर्विका॥
वेदाधीत्यधिकारस्य सिद्धिरृषिभिरीरिता। देवपित्रर्णापगमः विवाहस्य फलं स्मृतम्॥
niṣekāt baujikacainaḥ gārbhikaṃ cāpamṛjyate। kṣetrasaṃskārasiddhiśca garbhādhānaphalaṃ tathā॥
garbhe bhavecca puṃsūteḥ puṃstvasya pratipādanam। niṣekaphalavat jñeyaṃ phalaṃ sīmantakarmaṇaḥ॥
garbhāmbupānajo doṣaḥ jātātsarvo'pi naśyati। āyurvarco'bhivṛddhiśca siddhirvyavahṛtistathā॥
nāmakarmaphalaṃ tvetat samuddiṣṭaṃ manīṣibhiḥ। annāśanānmātṛgarbhamalāśādapi śuddhyati॥
balāyurvarcovṛddhiśca cūḍākarmaphalaṃ smṛtam। upanīteḥ phalaṃ tvetat dvijatāsiddhipūrvikā॥
vedādhītyadhikārasya siddhirṛṣibhirīritā। devapitrarṇāpagamaḥ vivāhasya phalaṃ smṛtam॥
Meaning : Niṣeka and Garbhadhana (both mean the same – the first physical union of wife and husband) would remove the impurities related to sperm, blood and cleanses the womb. Puṃsavanam is for having a male child. Simantonnayana (parting) is as good as Garbhadhanam, for cleansing the womb. Jatakarma (the rite performed to a son just born) removes the unwanted affects born out of consumption of the water of the womb by the child.
Namakarana (naming a child) is for increased longevity and brightness and to pronounce name during rites as well as mundane day to day transactions. Annaprāśana (feeding rice for the first time) purifies the child from the defects of eating the bad material while in the womb. Chudakarma (cutting of hair on the head for the first time) is meant for increased strength, longevity and brightness. Upanayanam is for attaining Dvijatva (second birth) that is essential to get eligibility to learn Veda and perform different rites. The four Vedavratas, viz. Agneya, Saumya, Vaisvadeva and Prajapatya are performed before the beginning of the learning of Veda for injecting more power into the Veda that is learnt. Vivaha (marriage) is for paying back the debt of deities and pitrs.
The term Samskara is more commonly used in the context of pharmaceutical procedures in Ayurveda. Processing of any raw herb or food material and transform its properties such that it becomes suitable for use, is known as Samskara. However actual meaning of the term remains same in whatever context it may be used. This is equally applicable to the term Samskara used in reference to the Shodasha Samskaras. Ayurveda samhitas describe the term Samskara as below,
करणं पुनः स्वाभाविकानां द्रव्याणामभिसंस्कारः|
संस्कारो हि गुणान्तराधानमुच्यते|
ते गुणास्तोयाग्निसन्निकर्षशौचमन्थनदेशकालवासनभावनादिभिः  कालप्रकर्षभाजनादिभिश्चाधीयन्ते (२)|२२| (Char. Samh. 1.22)
Meaning: Karana (processing) is the making or refinement of the dravya, or the samskara that are added to the properties of those substances. These properties are imparted by contact of water and fire, by cleansing, churning, place, time, infusing, steeping, etc. and also by the medium used for storage or processing (e.g., copper vessel, or earthen pot), etc.
Therefore in general, through the term Samskara, Ayurveda suggests change of original Gunas or properties and development of new desirable properties in a substance in order to make it suitable for some desired activity. With this link, Shadasha Samskaras are considered as the tools (procedural) used to bring about certain qualities in a person to make him capable of facing new changes or challenges of life and pass through them effortlessly rather with better outcomes.
Purusharthas and Samskaras
Harita speaks about the fruits of the Samskaras, “One who is consecrated with the Brahma Samskaras attains the status of Rsis, becomes their equal, goes to their world and lives in their close vicinity. One who undergoes the Daiva samskaras attains the status of devatas etc". As attaining Svargaloka was regarded the ultimate goal of life by common people in ancient times, the Samskaras naturally became instrumental in the attainment, of that coveted state of existence.
Sankha-Likhita remarks, “Purified by the Samskaras and always practicing the eight virtues of the soul, one gets fame, merits and svarga, he goes to Brahma-loka and reaches the state of Brahman-hood from where he never falls.
The social aims of Upanayana and Samavartana samskaras were to initiate and mark the end of studentship of Vedic education. Upanayana and Vivaha samskaras entitled a person to perform all kinds of yajnas which were mostly for securing svarga. Just as performing the shrauta yajnas were for pleasing the devatas and fulfilling worldly needs, so also Samskaras were said to bestow svarga. Medhatithi on Manusmriti shloka 2.28 further describes that the samskaras can lead a person to Moksha.
स्वाध्यायेन व्रतैर्होमैस्त्रैविद्येनेज्यया सुतैः । महायज्ञैश्च यज्ञैश्च ब्राह्मीयं क्रियते तनुः । । २.२८ । । (Manu. Smrt. 2.28)
The Samskaras from Jatakarma to Chudakarma are to be performed in the case of a male child of Dvijas, viz. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. In the case of the female child of a Dvija, only marriage (Vivaha) has to be performed with Vedamantras. Samskaraprakasa rules that there cannot be any Samskara for a Klība (impotent child).
Nirṇayasindhu, by quoting Smrtis, says that Shudras are entitled to perform six Samskaras, viz. Jatakarma, Namakarana, Niskramana (bringing the child into sunshine for the first time), Annaprashana, Chuda and Vivaha and the daily Panchamahayajnas (Devayajñaḥ, Pitṛyajñaḥ, Bhūtayajñaḥ, Manuṣyayajñaḥ and Brahmayajñaḥ). Shraddhakarma (death ceremony) and other Samskaras for Shudras have to be performed with verses from Puranas and not Vedic mantras. Varahapurana says that for a Shudra, the Brahmana can repeat the Mantras.
संस्कारफलम् || Effect of Samskaras
The Bhagavata Purana (Skandha 7, Adhyaya 15) mentions that a dvija (ie. brahmana, kshatriya and vaishya) who is consecrated with the 16 purificatory rites from garbhadana to the funeral rites, offers all his activities as an offering into his five cognitive senses kindled by the light of spiritual wisdom. He offers (ie. merges) the senses into the mind or the thinking faculty full of thoughts, the mind born of Vaikarika (sattvika) ahamkara into the Speech; the speech into the body of articulate sounds (which go to form Speech), and that collection of sounds into Pranava Om; he should merge that into Bindu, the Bindu into Nada, the Nada into Prana (vital breath) and Prana in the Supreme (Brahman).
निषेकादिश्मशानान्तैः संस्कारैः संस्कृतो द्विजः | इन्द्रियेषु क्रियायज्ञान्ज्ञानदीपेषु जुह्वति ||५२||
इन्द्रियाणि मनस्यूर्मौ वाचि वैकारिकं मनः | वाचं वर्णसमाम्नाये तमोङ्कारे स्वरे न्यसेत् ||५३|| ॐकारं बिन्दौ नादे तं तं तु प्राणे महत्यमुम् | 
niṣēkādiśmaśānāntaiḥ saṁskāraiḥ saṁskr̥tō dvijaḥ | indriyēṣu kriyāyajñānjñānadīpēṣu juhvati ||52||
indriyāṇi manasyūrmau vāci vaikārikaṁ manaḥ | vācaṁ varṇasamāmnāyē tamōṅkārē svarē nyasēt ||53|| oṁkāraṁ bindau nādē taṁ taṁ tu prāṇē mahatyamum |
- Pandey, Raj Bali. (1949) Hindu Samskaras, A Socio-religious study of the Hindu Sacraments. Banaras: Vikrama Publications. (Pages 25-38)
- Shabdakalpadhruma (See संस्कारः)
- Shukla, Sacchidanand (2008) Hindu Dharm ke Solah Sanskar. Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan.
- Sanskar Tattva by Shri. Shashinath Jha in Sanskar Ank of Kalyan Series. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 176-
- Ramakrishna Rao, K. V. (1994) The Psychology of Samskaras. Article in Vivekananda Kendra Patrika. (Pages 56-65)
- Deshpande, Kamalabai (1936) The Child in Ancient India. Poona: Aryasamskrti Press
- Pandey, Raj Bali. (1949) Hindu Samskaras, A Socio-religious study of the Hindu Sacraments. Banaras: Vikrama Publications. (Pages 39-57)
- Dr. Heramba Chatterjee Sastri. (1967) Studies in some aspects of Hindu Samskaras in Ancient India, In the light of Samskaratattva of Raghunandana. Calcutta: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar (Pages 29-39)
- Pt. Madhavacharya Shastri and Pt. Shrikanth Shastri (1952) Kyon? Dharma Digdarshan, Purvardha. Delhi: Madhav Pustakalay (Page 302 - )
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- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 1 Sutra 22)
- Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, The Bhagavata Purana (Part III), Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology (Volume 9), Edited by J.L.Shastri, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, P.no.985-996.
- Bhagavata Purana, Skandha 7, Adhyaya 15.