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Samskaram (Sanskrit: saṃskāraṃ "accomplishment, embellishment, consecration"; Hindi: Sanskar) are Vedic rites of passage finding varied acceptance among religious adherents of Hinduism, Jainism and some schools of thought in Buddhism.
Beliefs and practices
The Samskāra are a series of Sacraments, Sacrifices and Rituals that serve as rites of passage and mark the various stages of the Human life and to signify entry to a particular Ashrama. All Human beings, especially the Dvija or twice-born are required to perform a number of sacrifices with oblations for gods, Ancestors and Guardians in accordance with the Vedic dictums for a Dharmic or righteous life.
Sanskar is a commonly used variant of the Sanskrit word 'Samskara' and signifies cultural heritage and upbringing in modern Hindi. Apart from the practices, the word "Samskāra" is used in communication denoting the upbringing criteria of a hindu. For example- It is said that a boy with good Samskāra does right and it is supposed that he will not fall in sin, i.e Lust, Anger and Wine. It may be concluded that Samskāra is a word to denote the qualitative quality among Hindus.
Most Vedic rituals consist of Homa - fire sacrifies of elaborate and intrinsic designs and complex methodology, accompanied by recitation of Vedas by qualified Priests in honor of a particular Demigod or god, fire offerings of various ingredients, gifts to be given in charity, presence of elders for blessings, amidst sanctified sacrificial grounds, sacred herbs and good omens. Each important milestone of a Human life is to be celebrated by undertaking a particular Samskara wherein the significance of that milestone is ritualistically conveyed.
The 16 Samskaras
Most of the Brahmins used to follow complex rituals in connection with major events in their lives, such as pregnancy, childbirth, education, marriage, and death. The majaor samskaras 16 in number; generally known as "Shodhasa Samskaras" (IAST:Ṣoḍhaśa Saṃskāra). They are illustrated below:
Garbhadhanam (IAST: garbhadhānaṃ) (literally, gifting the womb), is the act of conception. This is the first sacrament which followed immediately on every marimonial union. There are a number of rites performed before conception. The act of first sexual intercourse or insemination is known as Nishekam. (Garbhdhanasamskaram is cited in Manusmrti, 2.27)
Pumsavanam (IAST: puṃsavanaṃ) is a ritual conducted in the third month of pregnancy. If it is the first pregnancy, it can be in the forth month also. The pregnant woman consumes one bead of barley and two beads of black grain, along with a little curd. This is accompanied by religious chanting. (in SED Monier-Williams cites Grihya-Sutra,MBh.)
Seemantam (IAST: sīmantaṃ) or seemantonayanam (IAST: sīmantonayanaṃ) sacrament is performed in the fourth month of a woman's first pregnancy. Seemantam is conducted for the protection of the mother at the critical period of gestation.
Fragnant oil is poured on the head of pregnent woman. A line of parting is drawn three times through her hair from the forehead upwards with three stalks of 'Kusa' grass bound together. The Pranava mantram "OM" and the sacred words called Vyahritis (Bhur, Buva, Sva) are chanted during each operation.
If the child is still-born, this has to be repeated during the next pregnancy.
Jatakarmam (IAST: jātakarṃaṃ) is meant for the development of the intellect of the child. When a male child is born, the ritual connected with birth is performed immediately (within 90 Naazhika). A small portion of a mixture of gold, ghee and honey is given to the new born infant. This rite symbolises good fortune. (Cited in Manusmrti 2.27)
Namakaranam (IAST: nāmakaraṇaṃ) (literally, naming) ceremony is performed to name the child. It is performed on the12th day after birth. The father calls the child's name in its right ear three times. At this time, male children are given the surname ‘Sharma’ and female children are given the surname 'De'. Then the mother takes the child by calling him (her) without surname. (Cited in Manusmrti, 2.30)
Annaprasanam (IAST: annaprasanaṃ) (literally, food-giving) ritual, which takes place when a child is six months old, is the first time the child eats solid food. A few grains of rice mixed with ghee are fed to the infant. This is an important ritual among all sections of Hindus. (Cited in Manusmriti 2.34)
Chudakaranam (IAST: cūdākarṃaṃ), also known as 'choulam' or 'mundanam' (literaly, tonsure) is the ceremony of cutting child's hair for first time. In the child's third or fifth year, the head is shaved, leaving behind a small tuft of hair. (Nowadays this ritual is not practiced.) (Cited in Mn.2.27,35)
Karnavedham (IAST: karṇavedhaṃ) (literaly, ear-piercing) is piercing the ears. This is done with a particular thorn. Butter is applied to the wound. It is applicable to both male and female children. (MW cites Purāna-Sarvasva.)
Vidyarambham (IAST: vidyāraṃbhaṃ) (literaly, commencement of studies) is done either when the child attains three or five years. On the tongue of the child the letters "Hari Sri Ganapataye Namah Avignamastu" and all the alphabets are written with a piece of gold. The child is made to write the same letters from "Hari Sri" onwards with its index finger on raw rice in a bell metal vessel and the child is made to utter each word when it is written. Either the father of the child or an eminent teacher officiates at this ritual. (Citation Mn.2.69)
Upanayanam (IAST: upanayanaṃ) is the ceremony of wearing the sacred thread called Yajñopaveetam. When the child attains eight years, the wearing of the sacred thread “Yajñopaveetam”, is ceremoniously done. This is only in the case of the boys. It is taking the child to the teacher for initiation of formal education. Along the sacred thread, the hide of the antelope called Krishnajinam is also worn by the boy. The upanayanam ceremony is followed by brahmopadesham - teaching Gayatri mantra to the boy. (Cited in Manusmrti 2.27)
Praishartham (Vedarambham) is the learning of Vedas and Upanishads in‘Gurukulam’ or ‘Pāṭhaśāla’. In the beginning of each academic period there is a ceremony called Upakarmam and at the end of each academic period there is another ceremony called Upasarjanam. ( Mn.2.71)
Kesantham and Ritusuddhi
Samavartanam (IAST: samāvartanaṃ) (Snanam) is the ceremony associated with the end of formal education of Vedas in ‘Gurukulam’ or ‘Pāṭhaśāla’. This ceremony marks the end of student hood. This also marks the end of Brahmacharyaasrama of life. (Citation: Mn.3.4)
Controversy in the total number of samskaras
Since ancient times there has remained a dispute between experts on the total number of samskara that exist. As written in Gautamsmriti 8.8 there are 40 of them, Maharshi Agnirane directed of 25 of them, but according to the Puranas, 12 or 16 of them are main and necessary. These ceremonies are enjoined on the first three (twice-born) castes in Manusmrti and Grhya Sutras (Grihya Sutras) (esp.Pāraskar). Some list 42 samskaras , ie the 16 listed above plus the 21 compulsory Yajnas , plus the 5 panchamahayajnas .
Vidyārambham,Vedārambham, and Antyeṣti are not enumerated as separate samskāras in ancient texts like Manusmriti or Grihya Sutra(Pāraskar). To this list may be added Karṇavedham too, which reduces the list of most essential sanskāras to 12 only.
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Sanskar are religious rites in Sikhism which take place at various important stages of life. For a man to attain various worldly stages he must go through various ceremony at certain times in his or her life. The ceremony that takes place at these events is called a sanskar.
The Sikhs have 4 main Sanakars or ceremonies in life. They are:
- Naam Karan –This is a Sikh ceremony of naming a child and it usually takes place in a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) after the baby and mother are medically and physically fit to attended the Gurdwara. There is no limit or threshold to this timing and the family should not feel undue pressure of any kind as to the timing. The only matters that need to be taken into account is the well being of the mother and child. It normally just involves the main family members attending at the local Gurdwara.
- Amrit Sanskar or Amrit Sanchar or the Amrit ceremony is the Sikh ceremony of initiation or baptism. This practice has been in existence since the times of Guru Nanak Dev (1469 - 1539). During that time-period, this ceremony was known as Charan Amrit or Charan Phul or the Pag Pahul. However in 1699, the Khande di Pahul (Amrit ceremony) was initiated by Guru Gobind Singh when Khalsa was inaugurated at Sri Anandpur Sahib on the day of Baisakhi. "Khande Di Pahul" embodies the primary objects of Sikh faith; promises connection with the Guru; and also promotes the ability to lead a pure and pious life which will unite the "pure one" with Almighty Lord.
- Anand Karaj – is the name of the Sikh Marriage ceremony, meaning "Blissful Union" or "Joyful Union," which was introduced by Guru Amar Das. The four Lavan (marriage hymns which take place during the marriage ceremony) were composed by his successor, Guru Ram Das. It was originally legalised in India through the passage of the Anand Marriage Act 1909 but is now governed by the Sikh Reht Maryada (Sikh code of conduct and conventions) which was issued by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC). It dictates that only those who follow the Sikh religion may marry under the ceremony, therefore, Sikhs cannot marry persons professing to other religions under it. It also states that child marriage is invalid and that no account should be taken of the prospective spouse's caste. However, in practice, many Sikhs take preference in people from their caste.
- Antam Sanskar – The funeral ceremony (cremation): In Sikhism death is considered a natural process and God's will or Hukam. To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both part of the cycle of human life of "Birth and Death of the body" ( ਆਵਣੁ ਜਾਣਾ , Aaavan Jaanaa) which is seen as transient stage towards Liberation, ( ਮੋਖੁ ਦੁਆਰੁ , Mokh Du-aar) complete unity with God. The soul being a unique form of energy from the source of all creation i.e. God, itself is not subject to death. Death is only the progression of the soul on its journey to God. In life, a Sikh tries always to constantly remember GOD (naam japna) so that he or she may be sufficiently prayerful, detached and righteous, and at death becomes one with God. "Lakh Akasha Akash" meaning countless galaxies or 'skies' also pervade or exit within the same ONE ALMIGHTY GOD along with all creation, including one and all of us. That is why Nanak said "Naa Ko barry naa he begana, sagal sang huam ko ban aai" (there are no enemies or others, I seek the company of all) & "Mannas kee jaat saabey eko pehchanbo" (O' humankind, consider everyone as one and equal).
- Translation by G. Bühler (1886). Sacred Books of the East: The Laws of Manu (Vol. XXV). Oxford. Available online as The Laws of Manu
- Monier-Williams, Monier (1899), A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, http://www.ibiblio.org/sripedia/ebooks/mw/ .