Hindus believe that every aspect of life is sacred. That is why each significant stage, from conception to cremation, is celebrated as a reminder that life is a gift from God which should be duly respected and lived according to his wishes.
The Vedic seers prescribed a set of observances, known as Samskaras or Sanskaras. There is a diverse number of Sanskaras in Hinduism out of which 16 are referred to as “Shodasha Samskaras“.
(1) Garbhadan (Conception)
Garbhadan Samskaras also called Garbhalambhanam, literally means attaining the wealth of the womb. This is the first Samskaras among sixteen Samskaras approved in our scriptures. After entering into a social and worldly life, this Garbhadan Samskaras is performed. It is a ceremony performed before conception and impregnation.
(2) Pumsavana (Engendering a male issue)
Pumsavana is a ritual conducted when the pregnancy begins to show, typically in or after the third month of pregnancy and usually before the fetus starts moving in the womb.
The ceremony celebrates the rite of passage of the developing fetus, marking the stage where the baby begins to kick as a milestone in a baby’s development.
(3) Simantonayana (Hair-parting)
The significance of the ritual is to wish a healthy development of the baby and safe delivery to the mother. The main objective of this Samskara is to prevent premature abortion and to protect the pregnant mother and the growth of the child in the womb of the mother.
(4) Jatakarma (Birth rituals)
It signifies the baby’s birth, as well as the bonding of the father with the baby. In scriptures, it is stated to perform this Samskara prior to cutting off the navel string of the newly born child from that of his mother. In Jatakarman ritual, the father welcomes the baby by touching the baby’s lips with honey and ghee.
(5) Namakarana (Name-giving)
This is a ceremony of naming a child and is usually done on the eleventh or twelfth day after birth, and sometimes the first new moon or full moon day after the 10th day of birth. On the day of this Samskara, the infant is bathed and dressed in new garments. His or her formal name, selected by the parents, is announced.
(6) Nishkrama (First outing)
Nishkrama literally means “going out, coming forth” It is usually in the fourth month when the parents take the baby outside the home and the baby formally meets the world for the first time. It is usually observed during the fourth month after birth.
(7) Annaprashana (First Solid Food)
Annaprashana marks the first time a baby eats solid food, typically containing cooked rice. The purpose of this Samskarasis to concentrate upon the physical and mental development of the child.
Meaning of Anna-Prashan is that so far the child was nourished only upon the milk of his mother and now the child should be given some quantity of the food. This ritual is usually done in the sixth month, or when the child shows the first teeth.
(8) Chudakarma (or Chaul) (Shaving of head)
Also known as Mundan Sanskar marks the child’s first haircut, typically the shaving of the head. The mother dresses up, sometimes in her wedding sari, and with the father present, the baby’s hair is cut and the nails are trimmed.
(9) Karnavedh (Piercing the earlobes)
Karnavedh means ear-piercing, the ears of a child should be pierced for protection (from diseases such as hydrocoele and hernia) and decoration.
For a boy, the right earlobe is pierced first and for a girl, the left. For boys today, this Samskara is only prevalent in some states of India. In girls, this Samskara has lost its religious.
(10) Vidyarambha (Learning the alphabet)
Vidyarambha Samskaras aim is that a child should be introduced about the priority of education. It is usually performed at the age of five, It is a ritual that celebrates as a milestone, the child’s formal attempt to learn means of knowledge.
(11) Upanayana (Sacred thread initiation)
At the age of eight, the son is initiated by the Acharya with the sacred thread, known as janoi or yagnopavit. Amongst all the foregoing Samskaras this is regarded as supreme for the intellectual and mental development of a child. Through this Samskaras, practical and spiritual progress is established in the life of the child.
(12) Vedarambha (Beginning Vedic study)
Praishartha (or Vedarambha) is the rite of passage that marked the start of learning the Vedas and Upanishads in schools.
Upanayan marked the beginning of education, but this Samskaras was to initiate the Vedic study. In this Samskara, each student, according to his lineage, masters his own branch of the Vedas.
(13) Keshant (Godaan) (Shaving the beard)
‘Kesh’ means hair and ‘ant’ means the end. This Samskara involves the first shaving of the beard by the student at the age of sixteen. The ceremony included gift giving such as to the barber and the teacher at his school.
(14) Samavartan (End of studentship)
‘Sama Vartan’ meant ‘returning home from the house of the Acharya.’ On completion of the studies of the Vedas and other scriptures in Gurukul when the student leaves his guru and gurukul Samavartan Sanskara is performed.
(15) Vivaha (Marriage Ceremony)
This is the most important of all the Hindu Samskaras. Vivaha (wedding) is the most extensive personal ritual an adult Hindu undertakes in his or her life. The wedding rites and ceremonies begin with the engagement of a couple and extend to rites of passage after the completion of the wedding. They are typically very colorful, and celebrations may extend for several days.
Post-wedding rites include Grihapravesa – the welcoming of the bride to her new home by the groom’s mother, father, brother(s), or sister(s), and other relatives. Chaturthikarma – literally, “the rite performed on the fourth day after wedding”, is the rite where the first domestic fire is lit marking the food-related householder life of the new couple
(16) Antyeshti (Death rites)
Antyeshti is the final Samskara in a Hindu’s life. Performed after the death of a person by his relatives, it is of importance because the value of the next world is higher than that of the present. The final rituals are performed with meticulous care with the help of Brahmin priests.