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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.
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 Cis simply to generate Vividisha (a desire / taste in Vedānta and attain Moksha). Except in Vivaha (marriage) vedic mantras are not to be used for a girl child.
The term Samskara is pregnant with meaning and hence untranslatable. Samskara here refers to any rite prescribed by scriptures either for purification (removal of papa) or generating, injecting some qualities by which a person becomes eligible or qualified to perform some rites. Viramitrodayam defines a Samskara thus:
आत्मशरीरान्यतरनिष्ठः अतिशयविशेषः संस्कारः। ātmaśarīrānyataraniṣṭhaḥ atiśayaviśeṣaḥ saṃskāraḥ ।
A special 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).
Number of Samskaras
There is difference of opinion as to the number of Samskaras. Gautama in his Smṛti (Dharmaśāstram) enumerated forty Samskaras, including five Mahayajnas, seven Pākayajñas, seven Haviryajñas and seven Somayāgas. Finally, it is decided in Samskaradipika that the following sixteen Samskaras are essential:
आधानपुंसवनसीमन्तजातनामान्नचोलकाः। मौञ्जीव्रतानि गोदानसमावर्तनविवाहकाः॥
अन्त्यं चैतानि कर्माणि प्रोच्यन्ते षोडशैव तु। antyaṃ caitāni karmāṇi procyante ṣoḍaśaiva tu ।
- गर्भाधानम् ॥ Garbhadhanam
- पुंसवनम् ॥ Pumsavana
- सीमन्तः॥ Simanta
- जातकर्म॥ Jatakarma
- नामकरणम्॥ Namakarana
- अन्नप्रासनम्॥ Annaprasana
- 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 Samskarakarmas
The very purpose of each Samskara is explained in the following verses:
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. Simanta (parting) is as good as Garbhadhanam. Jatakarma (the rite performed to a son just born) kills the bad affects born out of consumption of the water of the womb by the child.
Namakarma (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 father.
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, Namakaranam, Niskramanam (bringing the child into sunshine for the first time), Annaprasanam, 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.