Posted: Dec 31, 1969 (05:00:00 PM)
The definition of samskara is complex and has roots in the psychology of Yoga.
Angira Rishi describes Samskaras as follows: “Just as a picture is painted with various colors, the character of the individual is formed by the proper performance of Samskaras”. This means that birth in a specific family is not a sufficient qualification if the Samskaras are not properly performed; the advantage of a progressive family is that the knowledge and practice of Samskaras is rigorously followed.
Instructions on Samskaras are contained in the Griha sutras known as Apastambha, Asvalayana,
Baudhayana, Bharadhvaja, Gobhila, Hiranyakeshia, Jaiminiya, Khadira, Manava, Paraskara,
Sankhayana, and Varaha griha sutras. Besides that, a number of commentaries have been added in time: 25 Parishtas, 24 Prayogas and about 12 Karikas, as well as Apta vakyas (quotes from great personalities).
Samskaras are impressions of experiences that become engraved in the consciousness (chitta) and in subtle body (karanavastha) and combine in the subconscious to form vasanas, or subconscious inclinations to particular guna (qualities) and karma (activities). In turn, vasanas (“that which remains”) influence the formation of mental waves or vrittis that become manifest (abhivyakti) in the suitable circumstances (anugunanam) at the suitable time (vipaka). The cycle consists in karma (action) producing samskaras (impressions), producing vasanas (tendencies), producing vrittis (thought patterns) that is turn produce
more actions. Memories are perceptible forms of samskaras,
Samskaras and vasanas can be good or bad. The bad ones, that we need to extirpate from our psychic body, are kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (delusion), mada (madness) and matsarya (envy).
Adi Shankaracharya wrote: kama krodas cha lobhas cha dehe thishtanthi taskarah jnana ratnopaharaya tasmat jagrata jagrata, “one should beware of those dacoits that reside in our own body, ready to steal away the jewel of knowledge from us: these are lust, anger, and greed”.
The good samskaras and vasanas are also perpetuated by habit, or by the repetition of thoughts, actions, verbal expressions and sense perceptions that are recommended in the practice of Yoga. The first two “limbs” of the ashtanga yoga are Yama and Niyama, aimed at creating positive impressions and habits in the subtle body.
Yama includes ahimsa (absence of hostility), satya (truthfulness), asteya (honesty), brahmacharya (abstinence), aparigraha (simplicity), which need to be applied on the levels of body (saririka), speech (vachika) and mind (baudhika).
Niyama includes saucha (cleanliness), santosha (inner satisfaction), tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (study of the scriptures) and isvara pranidhana (devotion to God).
Sadhana, or the regulated performance of spiritual practices, is intended to create positive impressions in the subtle body through repeated experience of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana, so that the Sadhaka can eventually attain Samadhi.
Sadhana also comprises the practice of japa, the tri-sandhya worship (to Surya, Guru, and one ista devata), visiting temples to get the Darshana of the Deity and to accept prasadam, purifying one’s food (or better, offering it to God) before eating, bathing and washing according to precise rules, observing the many festivals and celebrations in the annual calendar, performing pilgrimages, distributing charity, etc. All these activities are repeated to bring a constant sense of sacredness and consciousness in everyday life.
Besides the basic Dasa Samskaras or ritual purification ceremonies performed during one’s life (and that are celebrated also for the Deities and Agni during Their installation) there are several other Samskaras aimed at creating favorable mental impressions on the subtle body through ritual ceremonies.
1.Garbhadana, performed for the child at the time of conception, so that an evolved soul will be attracted to incarnate in the family. An auspicious day is chosen, and mantras are chanted to invite the child.
The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Maruta Agni.
2. Pumsavana, performed for the child when pregnancy is ascertained, generally on the second or third month; it is meant to establish the basic training of the child in his early life. A few drops of the sap of the Banyan tree are inhaled through the right nostril of the mother, to relieve the troubles of pregnancy. Sacred thread is also tied to the left wrist of the mother for protection. The father places his hand on the mother’s belly, and encourages the child visualizing its body as the personification of religious ideals. From this day the mother takes rest, follows a proper diet and takes herbal food supplements, and lives in the best mental conditions possible. The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Chandra Agni.
3. Simanta nayana, performed for the child’s mother between conception and birth, usually between the fifth and the eight month of pregnancy. It is aimed at creating a sattvik and spiritual atmosphere around the mother, so that the child will be positively influenced. Symbolic objects representing sharp intellect, moon-like beauty and fruitfulness are honored. The father chants slokas in praise of his wife’s beauty, sweetness and generosity, wishing her all happiness, calling her to participate to all the religious functions and prayers of the household and to bless him with all good fortune. Music is played for the mother, and ladies sing. The mother observes a partial fast and remains in silent meditation until the time when stars become visible at night; finally she touches a calf for inspiration towards motherhood.
The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Mangala Agni.
4. Jata karma, performed at birth. A secret name is chosen, then the child is given a taste of honey and ghi touched to a golden ring, and a taste of strained water mixed with rice and barley. Depending on the circumstances, several other symbolical rituals are performed, prayers are chanted softly and brahmanas bless the baby. Finally the umbilical cord is cut. Jagannatha, Durga Madhava and Sarvamangala are worshiped.
The mother starts breast feeding after chanting a mantra, and the horoscope of the child is calculated. The father takes a full bath with all his clothes, preferably in a river or lake, distributes charity and performs other pious acts. However, from birth for 10 days all the members of the close family are not supposed to go to temples or to the house of other people, but should remain in their home taking care of the mother and the baby. The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Pragalbha Agni; a Sutika fire is also lit sometimes, after birth, in the delivery room where the mother enters two days before her due time. The Sutika fire is fed with mustard seeds and grains for auspiciousness.
On the 7th day after birth, Surya puja is performed, and the baby ia bathed in turmeric water. Pujas are additional rituals that complement the basic Samskaras.
On the 21st day after birth, the Raksha kavacha puja is performed; the mother recites “vimala raksha kara” for 21 times in the child’s ear, and fruits are offered to the Deity. Another ritual that is performed on the 21st day after birth (for a son, and on the 30th day for a daughter) is the Sasthi puja, in which pitha pancakes are offered.
5. Nama karana, performed about 21 days (for boys) or 30 days (for girls) after the birth of the child to give him a name; usually the name is composed by 2 or 4 syllables and the first syllable is chosen according to astrological calculations. The baby is bathed in turmeric and chandana water, then 7 married ladies offer arati, and mother worships the ladies with offerings of sari, chandana, alata on feet and sindhur. At the ceremony, 7 brahmanas recite slokas from the Vedas and the Bhagavata, then the homa is performed. The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Parthiva Agni. In the evening the family offer Satyanarayana puja in Sri Mandira in the name of the baby; they can also make a
small temple in their own house and offer puja there.
Nishkramana is the ritual of the formal Darshana of Sun and Moon, when the child is taken out of the house for the first time.
6. Anna prasana, performed seven months and seven days after the birth of the child, is the first time when the child is given grains to eat. Cooked rice is mixed with ghi, honey and yogurt, sanctified, offering as oblation, and then fed to the child. The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Uchi Agni.
Also after 6 months from birth, Mangala puja is offered: 7 married ladies sit in a circle keeping the baby in the center, and offer puja to the baby offering fruits and lamps.
7. Chuda karana, the ceremony when the boy gets his first hair cut (or shaven), on completion of thefirst year from birth. Symbolic objects are blessed, a barber is invited to the ceremony to shave the child’s head (sometimes leaving a sikha or a tuft of hair in the back) after moistening the hair with lukewarm water and butter or yogurt. The shaven hair are traditionally buried in the forest. The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Sadhya Agni.
Another important ritual is called Karna bheda (“piercing the ear lobes”); it is performed at 3 to 5 years of age, the ear ring and a healing ointment are applied. The child receives his first earrings and then goes to the temple with his maternal uncle. This ritual is sometimes performed at the time of Upanayana.
At the same age (from 6 to 7 years) girls observe the Neta puja, a life passage ritual. She worshipsShiva offering flowers, bhoga, and arati.
8. Upanayana (also called Vrata): the ceremony when the boy is given the sacred thread and the mantra for his basic daily sadhana. It is performed on the 8th year from birth for a brahmana child, on the 11th for a kshatriya child, and on the 12th for a vaisya child, but not later than the 16th, 22nd and 24th year respectively. If by that time they have not qualified for initiation, they are considered to be Vratyas, or fallen from the position. The ceremony should be performed in spring for brahmanas, in summer for the kshatriyas, and in autumn for vaisyas.
For 3 days (or at least 1 day) before the ritual, the child should fast, only drinking milk (for a brahmana), boiled barley with sugar (for a kshatriya), or skrihanda (for a vaisya) when they feel hungry. Srikhanda is drained yogurt mixed with sugar and saffron. The varna of the child is determined by the horoscope and endorsed by the Guru after examination and preliminary training of the child. With the thread ceremony the first phase of the education of the child is completed, the child is officially authorized to perform all rituals and starts the study of Vedas in full obedience to the training of the Guru. During the ritual, the Guru declares himself to be the representative of the real Guru, Antaryami, and dedicates the student to God’s service.
Entering the brahmacharya vows, the student pledges to abstain from any lusty thought, speech or act, to sleep on the ground (and not on a bed), to abstain from the use of perfume, to abstain from dancing and singing mundane songs, to abstain from riding horses or other animals, to observe moderation in sleeping, bathing etc, to rise early in the morning, to faithfully discharge his duties and chores, to abstain from remaining (living or spending nights) in a village or outside the Gurukula, to abstain from using shoes or umbrellas, to abstain from body massage and cosmetics, to eat a very moderate and strictly vegetarian diet (also abstaining from very sour foods like tamarind, spicy food, excessive turmeric or salt, or acidic foods).
During the ceremony the sacred thread is ritually awarded and the Gayatri mantra is uttered into the ear of the student to inspire him in discipline and proper performance of his duties. The student also steps on a stone, to be inspired to develop firmness and solidity, as well as physical strength. He is given a staff (bilva or palasha for brahmanas, vat or khadir for kshatriyas, and pipal or gular for vaisyas) and a girdle (darbha or munja for brahmanas, dhanusa for kshatriyas and jute for vaisyas). He also officially pledges to uphold vows (especially brahmacharya, ahimsa, purity in diet, and abstinence from illicit activities or adharmic acts), always remain truthful, remain tolerant, strive for excellence and greatness in life, engage in positive and beneficial activities, perform charity, serve God and the Devas, be kind to people, protect his subject or dependants, produce good children, remain detached and equipoised, assist the elders, etc. Brahmins wear a thread made of 6 strains to symbolize bhava for Guru, Pitru (ancestors), Matru (Mother), Atithi (guests), Mitra (friends) and Atman (one’s Self); after father dies, 3 more strains are added, to symbolize rina (one’s debt) towards Pitru (the ancestors), Matru (Mother) and Deva (God). The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Samudbhava Agni.
9. The ritual performed to consecrate the official beginning of the study of the scriptures is called
Vidya arambha (“beginning of the cultivation of knowledge”); at the age of 6 or 7, the child sits in the chatasala (school) and writes OM on the chalkboard for 21 or 108 times. The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Surya Agni.
Keshanta is the ritual of cutting the student’s hair when he takes the vow of brahmachari for the sake of his spiritual studies.
Samavartana is the ritual that ends the period of studies at the feet of the Guru. Girls getting their first menstruations observe the ritual called Rajasvala: during the menstrual days the girl sleeps on the floor and does not enter the kitchen; on the 7th day she performs puja to Mother Earth, sits in the middle of a circle formed by 7 married ladies, with gua (a betel nut) representing Mother Earth, both the girl and the gua are worshiped.
10. Vivaha, the marriage ceremony. One day before the marriage the couple performs the Mangala kriti, or visiting a Devi temple for permission, then the Pani grahana (“accepting the hand”) is performed. In Puri, the marriage ceremony itself is celebrated in the day time for Brahmins, and at night time for others. The groom arrives at the marriage venue in a decorated car together with a dancing party (called barati) with a noisy musical band, friends and relatives. The bride goes to a nearby temple to get blessings for the auspicious ceremony. A homa is celebrated; for a Brahmin marriage a barber and his wife assist in the rituals. The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Jojaka Agni.
After the marriage ceremony there are several rituals to be performed. On the fourth day of the marriage (called Caturthi) the bride is formally accepted into the Gotra of the husband with a series of rituals, to which 7 married ladies are invited to participate.
Another very important ritual observed by married people (and also observed by Jagannatha in the temple) called Sraddha, is offered for the benefit of the expired forefathers. On Mahalaya the holy thread is changed, and brahmanas are given food (7, 21, or 108 brahmanas), then for the next 15 days the performer grows beard and nails; on the 13th day the first Sraddha Pinda is offered at Svetaganga; on the last day of the Pitri paksha Pinda is offered by the son of the sister of the deceased; this day is also Government holiday. The bahu (wife) cooks for the ancestors on the 10th, 11th and 12th day after death, every year on the anniversary day of death, and during the Pitri paksha; during one entire year after death
the eldest son of the deceased does not take meals outside the house and does not take part in social ceremonies (marriages etc). The final ceremony for the departed forefathers consists in exhuming the bones of the 4 grandparents, previously buried in pots in front of the house, and taking them for a pilgrimage to Gaya.
During all the Samskaras and auspicious ceremonies, the karta (performer) is expected to offer homage to the Devas, the fire, 7 generations of ancestors (by naming them). Married people are expected to perform a number of recurrent rituals for the various yearly celebrations, and observe Upasana (regular worship to the family Deities) and Upavasa (fasting on special occasions, such as Ekadasi and the other sacred days listed in our Calendar) as well as Snanas (ritual bathing in sacred tirthas).
These Snanas are listed as: Magha saptami (at sunset in Chandrabhaga, Konark), Papanasini alavya (on Chaitra krishna Ekadasi), Varuni (Chaitra krishna Dvadasi, to have one’s wish fulfilled), Akshaya tritiya ( especially by ladies, after bath they offer Bhoga to Lakshmidevi and distribute sweets to children), Vaisakha purnima (the family Deities are bathed with ocean water mixed with chandana, kasturi and flowers), Punyaprada Ganga dasara (Jyestha sukla Dasami), Mahati (during the month of Sravana, to develop good qualites), Vijaya saptami (Asvina sukla saptami, to worship Durga), Kartika Amavasya in November (men take bath in the afternoon then light sticks of kauria wood to call the Rishis from the
Himalayas), Panchatirtha snana (on Margasira krishna Panchami for Sri kshetra parikrama), Kartika Purnima, Rasa Purnima (Asvina Purnima), Manasika snana (can be any day, it is done when one’s desires have been fulfilled), Sudhi snana ( can be any day, it is done after a funeral; after cooking the last meal of the day one should take bath in Svetaganga), Ganga snana (once in a lifetime), Triveni snana at Prayaga (once in a lifetime), Gaya snana (after Sraddha, once over many lifetimes).
Vanaprastha: at the age of 50, as old age approaches, the person retires for a life of austerity and study, sometimes going on pilgrimage in various holy places. A householde generally takes Sannyasa on his 60th birthday. Sometimes boys who have a strong tendency to religious and renounced life may take Sannyasa much earlier, but that is not specifically
prescribed as a duty. The Sannyasi abandons all ties with his previous life, including his name, and lives in a very austere way. Wives of Sannyasis consider themselves as widows.
Antyeshthi, or the funeral ceremonies, also known as Naramedha, Purushamedha, Narayajna and
Purushayajna. They do not include the celebration of a homa (fire sacrifice) like the regular samskaras, but fire is required nonetheless for the cremation of the body. The specific manifestation of fire invoked for this ceremony is called Chita Agni. The dead body is shaven, bathed and sandalwood paste is applied, then it is dressed with new clothes. Ghi is mixed with keshar (saffron), kasturi (musk), agar (aquilaria malaccensis), tagar (valeriana walichli), sandalwood powder, and karpura (camphor). A kunda is prepared in the crematorium, the wood is piled and large spoons are attached to long stick for oblations of ghi by four men at a time. The body is laid with the head to the north, and covered with wood. Slokas are chanted and the pyre is lit. Brahmins observe a 13 day mourning, during which they do not shave; at the end of this period they whitewash the house and replace all the cooking pots. After the funeral, more ceremonies are performed for the departed soul, specifically Sraddha and Pindi that are destined to please the departed soul and help him get a new human body. In Puri, people perform sraddha at any of five tirthas, especially at Svetaganga, Markandeya, Indradyumna, as well as at the Baisi pahacha inside Sri Mandira.
Samskaras also include the four rituals like Prajapatya (Vedavratas) performed during gurukulavasa (the years the student spends in the home of his Guru) and the five mahayajnas performed every day by the householder. These daily pancha mahayajnas are called Brahma yajna (chanting of the Vedas and/or study of the scriptures), Deva yajna (upasana, puja, homa and celebration of festivals in honor of the Deity), Pitra yajna (sraddha or tarpana for one’s ancestors), Manusya yajna (charity and feeding guests) and Bhuta yajna (offering food to various creatures).
The householder also peforms seven pakayajnas, seven haviryajnas and seven somayajnas.
The seven pakayajnas (generally to be performed once a year) are: Astaka (Anvastaka), Sthalipaka (to be performed every prathama or at every “beginning”), Parvana (sraddha ritual to be performed once a month), Sravani, Agrahayani, Chaitri, Asvayuji. The seven haviryajnas (to be performed once a year or at least once in a lifetime) are: Agniyadhana, Agnihotra, Darsha-purnamasa (to be performed once every 15 days), Agrayana, Chaturmasya, Nirudhapasubandha, Sautramani.
The seven somayajnas (to be performed once a year or at least once in a lifetime) are: Agnistoma, Atyagnistoma, Uktya, Sodasi, Vajapeya, Atiratra, Aptoryama.
In case of contamination of the family or falldown from one’s duties or position, as well as for the induction of a person of lower birth into the higher varna system, the Vratyastoma yajna or Prayaschitta is celebrated. Daily respects should also be offered to the teacher’s chair (Vyasasana), to holy books and school books, to the feet of the parents and to the kitchen grinding stone (called shila).
Some additional forms of worship are called Desachara, or special local worship according to the customs of the region, and others are called Lokachara, or special worship according to the “liking of the people”, such as Vratas etc.