Samskaras

       The Samskāra (or Sanskar, Samskara) are a series of Rituals that serve to mark the various stages of the Human life and to signify entry to a particular stage of growth (Ashrama). Rituals also include gestures of acknowledgement. For example, when food is eaten, a prayer ritual is performed as a gesture to honor all the factors responsible for food production. These factors are called Devatas.  All Human beings are required to perform these Rituals  for a Dharmic or Righteous and peaceful life.

 'Samskara' signifies upbringing through cultural heritage and gives direction to the good phhysical and mental growth of children.

      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. These rites are done post birth to post-death.  The Samskar is said to be helping for achieving spiritual nourishment, peace of mind and ultimately Moksha.

1. Garbhādhāna- the act of conception or insemination.  This is usually done with an enthusiastic prayer for a child. This is done for fulfillment of parental duty to continue the race. This sanskar is limited to the family members. This is performed by the husband.

2. Punsavan-acknowledging conception and aware of physical growth of foetus. This Punsavan ritual is done during the third or the fourth month of pregnancy to inform the close family members about the good news of the pregnancy. The significance of this Samskar is to invoke divine and good qualities in the child. Usually a male child is desired, atleast the first one in vedic culture. It is not because of the superiority of maleness but the symbolic  Meaning of Male.
3. strong>Seemantam- during pregnancy for the mind and the intellect of the child. This Samskar is performed during the fifth to eighth month of pregnancy and prayers are offered for the healthy physical and mental growth of the child.
4. Jāta-karman- birth time ceremonies. This Sanskar is performed at the birth of a child as a welcome sign to the new born child into the family. Mantras are chanted for a healthy, long life of the child. During this Sanskar, the father feeds honey to the baby. 
5. Nāmakarman- naming ceremony. This Samskar is performed on the tenth , eleventh or twelth day with recitation of Mantras and named based on the cosmic influence at the birth time. See Astrology for details. 
6. Nishkramana- ceremony to take outside home (1.5 to 4 months). This Samskar is performed when the child is taken out of the home for the first time. This is to acknowledge the five Panchabhutas, the space, air, fire, earth and water.
7. Anna-prāshana- feeding first solid food.  This Sanskar is performed on sixth month , when the child gets solid food for the first time. Ayurveda says "Annam sareeram", this body is nothing but made from food. So the factors (Devatas) responsible for production of food is acknowledged.
8. Chud-karman or mundana- first hair shaving. This Samskar is shaving the hair on the head of child. Hair is the symbol of pride of beauty (pride of possession is one of the qualities of Ego).  Since  the theme of Vedic life is to transcend Ego to Awareness state, this thought is ingrained as a symbolic gesture. Interestingly like all Vedic rituals where objects are also honored as Brahman, even the scissors or knife for cutting hair is duly honored.
9. Karna-vedha- Ear-piercing. Piercing of ear is a symbolic expression of the importance of opening the ears to the knowledge of Vedic tradition, which was usually passed in oral tradition from a Guru.
10.Vidyārambha (Vedarambha)-commencement of (Vedic) studies. This Samskar is done along with Upanayana. The setting up with the Sacred thread entitles the child to study the Vedas and participate in Vedic functions. The child commences his journey on the road to spiritual life. This ritual is done to remind human, contrast with a life of eating, sleeping and procreating, the kind of life which animals also live. The child is sent to Gurukul or learning center.
11.Upanayana- wearing of the sacred thread at 6-8 years of age. This is the most important Samskar , which marks the beginning of the next stage of life – Youth. The word Upanayana means bringing near. Near what?. Near Awareness, the source of everything.  The child is bought near to the Guru, who imparts this knowledge. This Samskar is second birth for child – A spiritual birth. This Samskar is performed during six to nine years of child.
12.Samāvartana -completion of education, end of brahmachaya. This Sanskar is performed before entering the grahstha ashram or the life of a householder. This is performed at the end of child’s study in Gurukul. The student has to take the permission of his guru before entering the ashram. After this the guru gives him important guidelines or tips for the grahstha ashram.
13.Vivāha -marriage. This sanskar is entry into the second Ashram. The life as individual family begins. Entering this stage of life, man has to take on his duties and has to pay spiritual debts by sacrifice , by procreating children and study. The bride and groom walks around Agni hand in hand. Details given in marriage ritual. Marriage is the stage one develops more emotional maturity.
14. Vanasprastha- withdrawing from worldly activities. Man withdraws himself from all worldly activities, prepares himself for taking Sanyas. It is not physical dislike of worldly possessions but mental renouncing, so that the mind is free for contemplation. 
15. Sanyasa - Renouncing or unattached to the world. A sanyasi renounces the world at the mental level attaining the truth about the world through his or her experiences of his earlier stages of life. He or She leads a life of study and meditation and Self realization.
16. Antyeshti, last rites at death.  The body is laid on the ground with the head towards the South. The dead body is washed, perfumed and wrapped in a new white cloth and decked with flowers. Death is beginning of the next birth cycle. this is why, when death is imminent, tulsi leaf and drops of Ganga water are put in the mouth of the person on the death bed, to remind him of the next life of purification and attainment of Self-realization.

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