Every aspect of life is sacred for a Hindu and thus needs to be nurtured. The Hindu religion prescribes many sanctifying rituals known as sanskaras/samskaras (the sacraments of life/rites for passage of life) for a Hindu. The rituals serve the purpose of preparing a person psychologically by creating subtle positive impressions on the mind through conscious shaping of the inner self. Of these, the 16 rituals or the sanskars are well known and covers the journey of life from conception to cremation.
The meaning of sanskar is cleansing and modifying quite similar to the language Sanskrit which itself is modified and cleaned language as against the popular vernaculars. Thus a sanskar serves to cleanse a person of the accumulated dust coverings on the psyche of a person through various purva janma sanskars. These rituals help to shed any negativity of the mind and help developing positive virtues in a person
The 16 sanskars are:
This sanskar is performed by both parents and consists of a prayer for begetting a child in order to continue the traditions of a Hindu and also the progress of the human race.
This sanskara is performed during the third or fourth month of pregnancy by reciting Vedic hymns to invoke divine qualities in the fetus which is developing as a child.
(Satisfying the cravings of the pregnant mother)
This sanskara is performed during the seventh month of pregnancy when prayers are offered to God for the healthy physical and mental growth of the child.
Mantras are recited for a healthy and long life of the child at his birth.
(Naming the child)
The name for the baby is selected such that its meaning can inspire the child to follow the path of righteousness.
(Taking the child outdoors for the first time)
This sanskara is performed in the fourth month after birth when the child is moved outside the house.
(Giving solid food)
In the sixth, seventh or eighth month child is given solid food.
(First Hair cutting)
This is performed during the first or third year of age when the child’s hair is completely removed by shaving.
This sanskara is performed in the third or fifth year.
(Sacred thread ceremony)
This introduces the male child to a teacher in order to receive education and marking the entry of the child to Brahmacharya.
(Study of Vedas)
This sanskara is performed at the time of Upanayana or within one year. The Guru teaches the Gayatri Mantra.
(Returning home after completion of education)
This sanskara is performed at the age of about 25 years.
This sanskar not only helps to tie the two persons for a life long journey with the witness of the sacred fire and the elders and with the chanting sacred Vedic hymns but also helps them undertake pledges to be fulfilled during this journey. There is no concept and ritual of divorce in Hindu Sanskars.
(Preparation for renunciation)
This sanskar is performed at the age of 50 years (now-a-days, 60 years) to celebrate the departure from the householder stage to the Vanaprastha stage when the person begins to engage in social and spiritual activities to help the society and mankind at large. Thus one moves away from the family as a unit to the Society as a unit.
This sanskara is performed after Vanaprastha for spiritual accomplishment.
This is the final sanskar performed after death by his or her descendants and followers.
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