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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Keshanta - 13th Shodasa Samskara

When a boy grows into his teens he attains maturity. Sprouts of hair appear on his chin and upper lip. The Keshānta Samskārā is performed in the sixteenth
A Tamil Hindu girl (center) 
in 1870 wearing a half-saree, 
flowers and jewelry from her 
Ritu Kala Sanskara rite of passage.
year for boys. An auspicious day is selected and worship of Lord Ganesha and family deities performed. With the chanting of mantras the boy’s hair is removed. This marks the transition from boyhood to adulthood. Godāna (gifting a cow) is part of the ceremony where the student gifts a cow to his Guru.

For girls, the ritushuddi ceremony is performed when she attains maturity - after menarche or first menstruation. This milestone in a girl's life is observed by her family and friends, with gifts and her wearing a sari for the ritual.

Subsequent to the Muslim invasion when Hindu religion suffered and early marriage became common, Keshānta began to be considered as marking the end of the Brahmacharya.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Vedarambha - 12th Shodasa Samskara

Vedārambha means ‘beginning of learning Vedas’ and is performed on an auspicious date after the Upanayana. The Samskārā is elaborate and performed with Yagnās and chanting. 

This is the day when the child starts studying the Vedas under the Guru. Traditionally in the Guru Shishya Parampara, the student would learn the Vedas living with the Guru as part of his family. 

In the Vedārambha ceremony, the sacred fire is lit and the student takes a vow to be dedicated to serving his Guru and his family, living a life of discipline and balance with unwavering focus on acquiring knowledge and gaining wisdom.

Upanayana - 11th Shodasa Samskara

Upanayana is one of the most important Samskārās in a person’s life. "Upa" means ‘close’ and "Nayana" means ‘to bring’. Upanayana means to bring closer to the Guru or Divine. The Upanayana ceremony is best done between the ages of six to eight years for boys although many perform it at a later age. It symbolizes spiritual rebirth and moving into the Brahmacharya stage of life. Traditionally Upanayana was done for women also but was discontinued a few centuries ago due to social conditions.

The child is initiated into the most sacred Gayatri mantra in the Brahmopadesham ceremony. He is taught the Sandhyāvandanam which is to be performed thrice every day. The Gayatri mantra is a prayer to invoke brilliance and purity in our intellect and consciousness. The three threads in the Yagnopaveetam represent the responsibility towards the one self, family and society. It can also be interpreted as responsibility towards the Rish, Pita(father) and the Divine. From the Rishis he gets knowledge, from his pita birth and by helping others he must free himself of his responsibility towards God.
The initiation is a passport to the literary treasures of the Hindus. Hindus made universal education the indispensable test and insignia of their community. By virtue of this ceremony the initiated is ranked as Twice born. 

By the end of the Upanishad period, the theory of the four ashramas seems to have become established and student’s life or Brahmacharya became a respected institution. This indicates that ancient Hindus attached great importance to education. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Vidyarambha - 10th Shodasa Samskara

Good education is a vital aspect in a child’s life. Every parent wants to see their children excel in studies and do well in all activities. Vidya means knowledge and ārambha is beginning.

In the Vedic tradition, Saraswati is the goddess of learning and knowledge. In the Vidyārambha ceremony Saraswati Pooja is performed to seek the blessings for the child. The child sits on the father’s lap and writes “” the primordial sound in a plate filled with rice grains. Subsequently the child is introduced to the world of alphabets. The child is then made to gift books and pens to other children. This cultivates generosity and the value of sharing in the child.

When the child was prepared to receive education, Vidyārambha is performed to mark its beginning, and alphabets, are taught. It marks the commencement of primary education. The ceremony is performed in the fifth year or the seventh but surely before the Upanayana ceremony. 

When the sun is in the northern hemisphere, an auspicious day is fixed for performing Vidyārambha. The child is required to bathe, be scented and decorated. Then Vinayaka, Sarasvati, family devata and Brhaspati are worshipped. Narayana, Lakhsmi, are paid respects. Homa is offered. The teacher faces the east, the child the west. The phrase “Salutation to Ganesha, Salutation to Sarasvati, salutation to family devas and devatas and salutation to Narayana and Laksmi”. After this “Om namah Siddhaya or salutation to Siddha”. Then the child gives salutation to the teacher, and the latter make the child read thrice what was written. The child presents clothes to the teacher, make three circumambulations round the devatas and seek everyone’s blessings.

Karnavedha - 9th Shodasa Samskara

Wearing earrings is a common practice in many ancient cultures. The ear lobes have an important acupressure point. Neurologists in the west have done research linking the earlobes to two hemispheres of the brain.

Piercing ears is believed to help in developing intelligence and enhancing immunity against respiratory infections. Often in India when prostrating to Lord Ganesha, we gently tug at our ear lobes while doing sit-ups. This ancient practice is now being taught as a very popular yoga technique in the west to enhance intelligence and awareness in children.
Susruta says “Ears of a child should be bored for protection (from diseases in his opinion) and decoration”. He explicitly prescribes the boring of years for preventing of hydrocele and hernia. Thus, it is a precaution taken in early life so that the chances of the above diseases may me minimized later. 

The ceremony was performed on the 10th, 12th or 16th day after the birth according to Brhaspati. Different learned men have prescribed different days. Susruta prefers the 6th or 7th month taking physical facility into consideration. Susruta says a surgeon should pierce Ears while Sripati, a medieval writer says it should be the goldsmith.

The ceremony per say is simple. On an auspicious day the ceremony was performed in the first half of the day. The child was seated facing the east and given some sweets. Then the right ear was bored with the verse; “May we hear auspicious things through ears”. Susruta gives a very cautious procedure to the ceremony. After boring oil should be applied to the ears by means of a cotton thread or bougie.

On the day of performance Kesava (lord Vishnu), Hara (siva), Brahma, the sun, the moon, deities of quarters, nasatyas, Saraswati, the Brahmans and cows are revered. 

Hindu Wisdom: 7 things you didn’t know about ear piercing

It is  a common practice in India to have one’s child’s ears pierced when they are very young. According to Vedic rites, parents usually get their child’s ears pierced when they are merely a few days old. While the custom seems quite a painful process and it looks like quite a terrible thing to do to your baby, the tradition does have some health benefits for your child. Here 7 facts about ear piercing that you should know.
Maintains the reproductive organs and helps in a healthy menstrual cycle: The lobe of the ear possesses a point found right in the middle of the lobe. This point, in Ayurvedic literature, is regarded as one of the most important areas for the health of one’s reproductive organs. Not only does this point help keep these organs robust in male children, it also helps regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle. Apart from that, according to the Shushruta Samhita, piercing this point helps prevent a variety of infections and the onset of hydrocele (filling up of fluid in the testicles) and hernia in boys.
Helps in the growth of the brain: According to the great sage Shushruta, the ear lobes contain meridian points that connect to the left and the right hemisphere of the human brain. When this point is pierced it helps activate these parts of the brain. This theory can also be found in the principles of acupressure therapy, that states the when these meridian points are stimulated, it helps in the quick and healthy development of the brain and enhances memory. That is why if a child’s ears are pierced early on in life, especially when the brain is still developing, it is highly beneficial for the child. This also goes to prove the belief that a child must get their ears pierced within the first eight months of birth – when their brains are developing.  

Sharpens eye sight: According to acupuncture,  the central point on the ear lobe is where the centre for vision lies. Therefore applying pressure to this point helps improve eyesight.
Keeps ears healthy: The point where a child’s ear is pierced is where two very essential acupressure points are present – master sensorial and master cerebral points. These points are key players in maintaining the health of your child’s hearing. According to acupressure experts this is an especially good spot to help relieve the symptoms of tinnitus.
Prevents conditions like anxiety, OCD and nervousness: There are two schools that talk about the same benefit. According to Shushruta Samhita, piercing a child’s ears not only helps making their brains function optimally, but it also keeps conditions like hysteria at bay. This theory is backed up by the principles of acupressure that state that this region is also the seat of the master cerebral, an area that governs the working of the brain. It is said that applying pressure on this point helps keep mental illnesses like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), nervousness and anxiety at bay.
Can help keep one’s digestive system in order: Another great reason to have your child’s ear pierced is because stimulation of this point helps maintain one’s digestive system. More specifically this point is the seat of the hunger point (so called in acupressure). The hunger point mans the working of the digestive system, keeping it in check and reducing the chances of obesity.
Is specific to each gender: If you have noticed when a child has his/her ears pierced, the person doing so will always pierce the  right ear of a boy child first, and the left ear  of a girl first. This is because these specific points coincide with the feminine and masculine halves of a person. It is believed that the left side of the body is the feminine side and the right side of the body is the masculine one.Therefore the left year is pierced to stimulate the Yin organs to treat diseases often seen in males, and the right side is pierced to stimulate the Yang organs for diseases commonly seen in women.References:
Sushruta Samhita. English translation by Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna

Modern Chinese Ear Acupuncture – Ping Chen

Chudakarma/Mundana - 8th Shodasa Samskara

Our hair on the head is often called the crowning glory. It gives us protection from the elements and enhances beauty. Chudākarma or Mundana is the Samskārā where the child’s hair is cut for the first time. The Chudākarma ceremony marks a new phase of life for the child. It symbolizes cleansing, renewal and new growth. It is also said that the new hair that grows is strong and clean. Mantras are chanted as the child is given blessings of long life, prosperity and fame.

According to Susruta, “shaving and cutting of hair and nails removes impurities, gives delight, lightness, prosperity, courage and happiness”. Charaka opines, “Cutting and dressing of hair, beard, nails gave strength, vigor, vitality, life, purity and beauty”. 

Chudakarana was a religious ceremony as early as the Vedic period, consisting of wetting the hair, prayer to the razor, invitation to the barber, cutting the hair with Vedic verses and wishes for long life, prosperity, valor and even progeny of the child.

In the opinion of the Grhyasutras, the ceremony took place at the end of the first year or before the expiry of the third year. Manu too prescribes the same. Performed in 3rd year it is considered the best by the learned, in the 6th or 7th year it is ordinary but in the 10th or 11th year it is worst.

The arrangement of the top-hair or Sikha was the most important feature of the Chudakarna and made according to family tradition. The descendants of Vasistha keep only one tuff in the middle of the head, of Atri and Kashyapa two on either sides, of Bhrigu remain without a tuff, of Angiras five. Later on one tuft became universal in northern India, probability, due to its simplicity and decency, though in Deccan and South, the ancient traditions are kept alive to an extent. 

The following main features of the ceremonies can be distinguished. The first is the moistening of the head. The second is the cutting of the hair with prayers for non-injury of the child. The third is throwing away the severed hair with cow-dung. Hair is regarded as part of the body and was subject to magic and spell by enemies. The fourth is keeping of top-hair. It was a racial fashion and helped distinguish families.

Most importantly the ceremony was for the child’s long life. Is there any connectivity between life and the top-hair? Says Susruta “Inside the head near the top, is the joint of a Sira (artery) and Sandhi (a critical juncture). There is the eddy of hairs is the vital spot called Adhipati (overlord). Any injury to that part causes sudden death”. The protection of this vital part was considered necessary, hence the tuff of hairs.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Annaprashana - 7th Shodasa Samskara

There is a popular saying in Hindi that says “jaisa ann vaisa mann” which means as “as is the food, so is the mind”. The food we eat nourishes us physically and also affects our mind.

Annaprāshana is an important ceremony performed in the sixth month. The child is fed solid food for the first time. This ceremony is done to bring good health, radiance and physical strength in the child. Relatives and friends are invited to a feast specially prepared for the occasion.

Medically speaking a child is not able to digest food for the first four to six months. So breast- feeding is essential initially. Feeding the child with solid food was the next important stage in the life of the child. After six to seven months, the child’s body was developed and required greater amount, different type of food so for the benefit of the child it was important to wean away the child from breast feeding to solid food. Thus this S was connected with the satisfaction of the physical need of the child. Endorsed by Susruta, who prescribes the weaning of a child in the sixth month and describes the type of food given. It was only later that this system of feeding the child assumed a religious shape. Food, the source of energy was to be infused into the child with the help of Gods.

According to the Grhyasutras the ceremony was performed in the sixth month after birth. Other Smritis too are of the same opinion. Laugaksi says when the teeth come out so that a child can eat solid food. The prayer was offered so that all the senses of the child are gratified so that he may live a happy and content life. But it was kept in mind that search for gratification should not violate the rules of health and morality because it would spoil the fame of man. In the end the father set apart foods of all kinds and flavors for feeding the child and fed it silently or with the syllable “Hant” (well). The ceremony terminated with the feasting of the Brahmans.

The significance of Annaprasana was this that children were weaned away from their mothers at proper time. It was a reminder to the mother the time had come for the child to have solid food as well as for her to realize that she needs to conserve her energy. Using all her energies to feed the child is of no benefit to either the child or the mother.

Nishkramana(first outing of newborn) - 6th Shodasa Samskara

Impressions in the child’s mind are formed based on what we see and hear in this world. Nishkramana is the first outing of the child where it is shown good and auspicious symbols. This is usually done after the first month the child is born. The child is taken for a visit to the temple and shown the moon at night.

According to the Grihyasutras and the Smritis   this Samskara may take place either in the third or in the fourth month after the birth. Hindu scriptures say: "The ceremony of looking at the Sun should be performed in the third, and that of looking at the Moon in the fourth month."   Niskramana   ceremony can also be performed with the First Feeding in the opinion of Asvalayana. There are specific astrological dates when the ceremony should be performed based on the convenience of the parents, the health of the child and suitability of the weather. On the day of performing the Samskara, a square portion of the court yard, from where the sun could be seen is smeared with cow dung and clay, the sign of Swastika is made on it and grains of rice scattered by the mother.  (In olden days these were mud floors in villages which needed plaster as often as possible. Cow dung was also considered as disinfectant.)
The child is fully dressed and bejeweled and brought to the family deity in the house. Then the deity is worshipped with instrumental music. The guardians of eight directions, the sun, the moon, vasu devatas and the sky are all propitiated. Vedic scholars as well as family priest are fed and appropriate mantras are chanted. The child is carried out with sounds of conch shell (Sankha) and Vedic hymns are chanted. At the time of outing, the father repeats the Sakuntala hymn or the following verse, "Whether the child is conscious or unconscious, whether it is day or night, let all the gods led by Indra protect the child." Then the child is brought to the Pooja room or temple   to perform the worship. The child is made to bow to the deity and the priest   who in turn blesses the child for long life intelligence and health. After this the child is placed on the lap of the maternal uncle who brings it back home. The child is pampered with toys  and other gifts  with hearty blessings. Since the child is made up of five elements it is customary for the parents to propitiate these divine elements and seek blessings form them as the child gets exposed to them besides the main deities Sun  and the Moon.

In the Atharva Veda 8/2/14 it is said:

Sive te staam dyaavaaprithivee asamtaape abhisriyau | 
sam te soorya aa tapatu sam vaato vaatu te hride | 
sivaa abhi ksharantu tvaapo divyaah payasvateeh || 

O Child! At the Nishkramana ceremony may the earth and the whole world shower welfare and benevolence upon you! May the Sun shine brightly upon you! May your chest be filled with fresh life-giving air! May the divine waters quench your thirst!

It is customary to chant the mantras 

Trayambakam Yajaamahe” and “asato maa sadgamaya” on this occasion.

Hindu scriptures say: 

Nishkramanaad-aayusho vriddhir-appyuddishtaa maneeshibhih || 

The Nishkramana ceremony aims at wishing the child a long and healthy life.

Namakarana - 5th Shodasa Saskara

The fifth ceremony after Jatakarma ceremony is called naming ceremony(Namakarana). In this ceremony the child is given a name. All the activities in the world are carried on the basis of name. Every parent has the duty to give a nice name to the child, which reminds the child of some goal or objective in the life. 

In the Hindu Dharma, the child is frequently named after an avatar, deity, sacred place or river, saint, etc., as a constant reminder of the sacred values for which that name represents.

It is very important to select a nice name for the child; the name should be meaningful which fulfills all the desires of the child. Whenever the child hears the name he will remember the meaning and purpose hidden in it and will be inspired by its meaning.

Generally it is seen that few people keep meaningless names for their children. If the name is meaningless how can it be inspirational for the child? In the same way the child having the names of birds and animals cannot have a strong feeling within.

There are two purposes of naming the child – the first is that the name is used to address the child, and the second is that the name should raise good feelings inside the person, which reminds him of his goal. For example – Virsen denotes victory in the war, Vedvrata means a person who takes the resolution to study the Vedas. Satyavrata means one who follows truth. Such names arouse some positive feelings. Such names should not be kept which have negative role in history, for instance – Duryodhan, Shakuni, Jaychand etc. These names does not give high feeling in the child.

Names like Yudhishtir, Vishvamitra are related to high feelings. The person rises above in life with these names. This is found only in Vedic culture. Others keep meaningless names. Naming a child is very important and through this we keep a goal in front of the child.

The classical books say that the names should not begin with Ka, Kha, Cha and Chha. But the names of ancient sages contained these letters in the beginning. For example – Kapil, Charak, Parashurama, Pulast, Kutsa. These names were very popular in the Indian history but these names are contrary to the said principle. The simplest rule in this case is that the names should be simple, meaningful, easy to pronounce and reminding the goals, the other principles are secondary.

‘Sanskar Vidhi’ mentions about naming ceremony that the day and star of the child’s birth, the same day and star should be chanted and 4 offerings should be given to the lord of that day and star. In other words, one offering in the name of day, one for lord, one for star and one for the lord of the star.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Jatakarma (Birth rituals) - 4th Shodasa Samskara

These rituals are performed at the birth of the child. It is believed that the moon has a special effect on the newly born. In addition, the constellation of the planets - nakshatras - also determine the degree of auspiciousness. If birth occurs during an inauspicious arrangement, the jatakarmas are performed to ward off their detrimental effects on the child. The father would also request the Brahmanishtha Satpurush for blessings.

The main objective of these actions is to inculcate some values in the child even while he is ignorant about their importance. The child lives in a different environment in the mother’s womb. It does not take food from the mouth and breathe through the nose. Its food is carried through the umbilical cord. The child is inside a pouch during pregnancy, which is filled with water. The child’s mouth and eyes are closed with phlegmatic substance to avoid the entry of water in the mouth and eyes. After taking birth, its mouth and nose have to be cleaned. The child looses the physical attachment with the mother and hence its mouth, ears, nose and lungs have to be cleaned to facilitate the child drink mother’s milk and breathe properly. When the child is inside the watery pouch then a type of oily pack covers the body so the watery pouch does not harm the skin in any way. After coming out of the pouch, the child is bathed to remove the oily pack from the body. All the necessary actions have to be performed after the birth of the child in order to arouse its five sensory organs. The main objective of birth ceremony is to arouse all the sensory organs. Sushrut has advised to place a little amount of ghee on the child’s tongue. Applying ghee or oil on the child’s head protects it from cold and catarrh.

In this ceremony the child is made to lick ghee and honey however the quantity should not be equal. Honey should be three times the ghee; this child should be made to lick with the help of a golden spike. Write Om on the tongue with the help of spike. This has been said in the process of ceremony. The psychologists believe that whatever the child learns till five years of his birth remains with him throughout the life. The main purpose of writing Om on his tongue is that whatever he utters will take him on the path of spirituality. The father of the child whispers in his ears -‘Vedosi’, which means you are a knowledgeable person. The birth ceremony has a spiritual and scientific importance but nowadays people are under the influence of material comforts and forgetting the importance of ceremonies. We should get back to the traditions of sages and perform all the ceremonies so that our future generation gets good qualities and values.

Simantonayana - 3rd Shodasa Samskara

Simantonayana sanskaar (The ritual for the mental development of foetus) ‘Seemant’ - this vernacular word literally means brain, while ‘Utnayan’ literally means development.

The word Simantonayana thus acquires the meaning of - a ritual in which the mother focuses her attention to brain development of the child. The previous ritual (Punsavan sanskaar) is for physical development while this Simantonayana sanskaar caters to mental development. Every physical and mental aspect of the foetus is taken care of by virtue of both these rituals. The book 'Sanskaar Vidhi' mentions that for Simantonayana sanskaar, the husband should himself oil the wife's hair with fragrant oil, comb the hair, remove the knots, tie the hair into a nice bun and take her to the temple or hall of Yajya (where the brahmanical fire sacrifice is performed). This implies that during this time both the husband and wife should concentrate on the mental development of the child; they should realize that the child's mental development depends entirely on them and that the way they lead their intellectual lives will leave its impression on the child. 

The scripture-writers have considered the mother a mould in which the parents can cast the child exactly the way they want him/her to be. If care is not taken during this time, then after the child's birth, the good or bad external environment starts having a profound effect. The implication of Simantonayana sanskaar directs the parents' attention to the child's mental development. The best time for this ritual is when the brain-cells of the fetus start forming. Shaareer Sthaan of Sushrut mentions: In the fifth month, the mind is quite awake, in the sixth the intellect and in the seventh there is manifestation of organs. In the eighth month, the element of oj (one of the eight essential elements of the body) is not stably formed. A child born in the eighth month, often, does not survive. This makes it clear that according to Sushrut, the child in a womb of five months develops a more aroused mind than in the fourth month when the brain only starts forming. This is the reason why the Simantonayana sanskaar is performed in the fourth month. The sole purpose of this ritual is that the mother should completely understand that from this point on, she owns responsibility for her child's mental development. Whatever she does from now on, should be done with the knowledge that every thought of hers is unconsciously affecting the child taking shape within her. If not performed in the fourth month, the ritual can be carried out in the sixth month or even eighth month. One of these three months (fourth, sixth, eighth) should be chosen for Simantonayana sanskaar. The fourth suits because during this month, the formation of brain cells begins. The sixth suits as during the sixth month, the first origin of intelligence can be traced and eighth is suitable because by that time, the body, mind, brain and heart of the foetus are all ready. This is the time when the woman is called 'twin-hearted' as two hearts work simultaneously. So in this situation, the mother should pay special attention to maintain the functionality of the child's body, mind, brain and heart as the child delivered in eighth month rarely survives. 

The lack of desire for any particular thing on part of the pregnant woman leads to a disinclination of the child too for the same thing. Similarly, whatever the mother desires for, the child also starts desiring for the same. The framers of the system of rituals strongly held that the mother's impressions have an allround effect on the child and therefore, Simantonayana sanskaar was given a significant place. Manusmriti (Chapter 9, verse 9) says: The kind of image a pregnant woman draws in her mind is similar to the kind of the child she bears. So, for an excellent offspring equipped with supreme impressions, the woman should be kept in a conducive environment.

Simantonnayana is a family and a community festival with prayers seeking safe birth of the child. Special invocations are made seeking blessings for the couple, and particularly seeking the birth of a child who will have all qualities of nobility and high intellect. Appropriate hymns are recited by the priest and musical instruments are also played on the occasion. The elderly ladies shower blessings on the mother-to-be with the following:

ॐ वीरसूस्त्वं भव, जीवसृस्त्वं भव, जीवपत्नी त्वं भव।
om vīrasūstvaṁ bhava, jīvasṛstvaṁ bhava, jīvapatnī tvaṁ bhava.

May you give birth to a brave child, you give birth to a living child, and you remain the wife of a living husband.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Pumsavana - 2nd Shodasa Samskara

All conscious parents wish that the child in the womb - whether son or daughter - should be full of strength and vigor; should be healthy, disease-free, long-lived, intelligent and goodlooking. The second ritual - the Punsavan sanskaar - is performed with this objective, two to three months after the foetus is placed in the mother's womb. Once pregnant, the mother has to take precautions for the protection, growth and development of the womb. The scripture 'Charak' in the Ayurveda contains detailed instruction on this topic. 

For instance, certain things that could dehydrate the womb, flow it out or kill the fetus are: squatting with the feet flat on the ground, walking around on uneven land, sitting on a hard or rigid base, resisting the pressure of motion, urination or gas, laboring hard, consuming hot or strong food items and remaining too hungry. [Source: Charak Sanhita, ShaareerSthaan- 8/21] Getting hurt, the squeezing of the womb in any manner or looking at a deep pit, a well or the fearsome spots of mountains can result in miscarriage. Too much movement of the pregnant woman's body, a ride on bullock-cart or some such vehicle, loud noise or unpleasant words can also result in miscarriage. Always lying down straight on the back can cause the cord to wrap around the neck of the fetus, thus killing it. [Source: Charak Sanhita, ShaareerSthaan - 6/21].

If the pregnant woman sleeps nude or keeps roaming around, the ensuing offspring could be insane. An extremely quarrelsome pregnant woman could have an epileptic child. If she is too obsessed with sex, the offspring would be lustful and lascivious. If she is forever mournful, the child would be fearful, weak, short-lived. If she is desirous of others' wealth, she would produce a jealous, thievish, lazy, rebellious, wicked child. If she remains angry, the child would be ill-tempered, deceptive and a backbiter. If she is too much of a sleeper, her offspring will be lazy and stupid having indigestion problems. If she drinks alcohol, her child would be restless. If she has too much of a sweet intake, the child would be diabetic; with excess of sour intake, the child would have dermatological problems; excess of salt intake would result in child's hair turning grey prematurely, wrinkling of face and balding; too much intake of spicy, pungent food could produce a weak, semifertile, infertile or a homosexual child. Extremely bitter intake could result in a child with a feeble, emaciated body. [Source: Charak Sanhita, Shaareer Sthaan - 8/21]

Right from the first day, a pregnant woman should remain happy, adorn herself with pure jewels, wear white clothes, have a peaceful mind, wish well for everyone and be devoted to Ishwara and saints. She should abstain from touching soiled, distorted or inferior organs. She should stay away from stinking places and unpleasant sites. She should avoid listening to things that cause uneasiness or restlessness. She should not partake of dry, stale or rotten food. She should shun going outdoors, visiting an unoccupied house or cremation grounds, staying under a tree, getting cross or sulking, being untoward, yelling etc. She should avoid all those things that could harm her womb and its occupant [Source: Charak Sanhita] 

She should not use any intoxicant, should not climb for a ride, should not eat meat, abandon the things which the senses are not desirous of and comply with the learned women of the neighborhood or family [Source: Charak Sanhita]. All that is written above implies that when the child is in the womb, everything that the mother does, contributes towards the child's constitution. Keeping in mind the physical development of the offspring, it is therefore, the mother's duty to regulate her eating-drinking habits, her lifestyle and behavior in such a manner that it leaves no adverse effect on the child. If any organ of the pregnant woman hurts owing to a physical defect, the wombplaced chills starts experiencing a hurting sensation in the same [Source: Sushrut, Shaareer Sthaan - 3/16].

Garbhadan (Conception) - 1st Shodasa Samskara

'Garbha' means womb. 'Dan' means donation. In this the man places his seed in a woman. The Gruhyasutras and Smrutis advocate special conditions and observances for this, to ensure healthy and intelligent progeny. Procreation of children was regarded as necessary for paying off debts to the forefathers. 

Another reason for having progeny is given in the Taittiriya Upanishad. When the student ends his Vedic studies, he requests permission to leave from his teacher (see Samskara 14). The teacher then blesses him with some advice which he should imbibe for life. 

One of the commands is: "Prajaatantu ma vyavyachchhetseehi..." (Shikshavalli, Anuvak 11.11) "Do not terminate one's lineage - let it continue (by having children)."

According to Ayurveda, for conception, the minimum age of the man should be 25 years and that of the woman should be 18 years. It is considered even better if the age is even higher because prior to age 25, a man's semen and prior to age 18, a woman's ova and uterus, are underdeveloped. In this immature state, conception cannot lead to the production of a superior offspring. 

By Vedic belief, a couple can willfully (obeying the directions given in the scriptures) acquire a strong, beautiful, intellectual, dignified, dispassionate offspring possessed with good impressions. For this, it is necessary to follow certain pre-requisites like continence, healthy and pure diet, regular study of scriptures and of self, excellent company, a strict routine, contemplation etc. 

Scriptures based on the subject of Ayurveda contain a detailed description of these things. One should have a look at them. It is said that when, after marriage, Sri Krishna asked his wife Rukmani what she wanted, she replied that she longed for a child like him. Lord Krishna explained that for this, both he and Rukmani would have to practice continence for 12 years in isolation. They did so. And then was born the child, Pradyumn, who possessed qualities similar to Sri Krishna. Those 12 years had been spent for strengthening of the sexual fluids, development of excellent impressions and other such qualities. This clarifies that the physical as well as the mental condition of parents before conception and during fertilization has a profound effect on the impending jIvAtma. 

Keeping this in mind, saints have assigned several types of methodical directions. Besides the states mentioned above, the actual 10-month duration of pregnancy is also very important as the impressions incorporated in this tenure can diminish the impressions of several previous births. For instance, if some grass twigs are kept next to a case of saffron, they too acquire the fragrance of saffron in a few days. On the other hand, if a box of saffron - containing sweets is placed inside a basket of onions for a few days, the sweets acquire the foul odor of onions. The impressions once cast upon the child in womb during pregnancy are very difficult to change later.

Chants for Expectant Couples:

Shodasa Samskaras - The 16 main rituals of a Hindu's life and their significance

Since eternity man has strived to improve his own self. This realization, unique only to mankind, has led him to think deeper about his physical, mental and spiritual well being. Towards this end, the Vedic seers prescribed a set of observances, known as Samskaras. (Though pronounced Sanskaras in Gujarati, we shall use the original Sanskrit form.)

The nearest English word for samskara is sacrament, related to the phrase 'rite of passage'. In the Oxford English Dictionary, sacrament is defined as a "religious ceremony or act regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward or spiritual grace." In classical Sanskrit literature texts, such as Raghuvamsha, Kumarsambhava, Abhijnan-Shakuntal, Hitopadesha and Manu Smruti, samskara is used to mean: education, cultivation, training, refinement, perfection, grammatical purity, polishing, embellishment, decoration, a purificatory rite, a sacred rite, consecration, sanctification, effect of past actions (karmas), merit of karmas, etc.

A general definition of samskara, encompassing nearly all of the above is "to improve upon something while removing its undesirable attributes."

Purpose of Samskaras

  1. Cultural. The variety of rites and rituals related to the samskaras help in the formation and development of personality. In the Parashar Smruti it is said, "Just as a picture is painted with various colors, so the character of a person is formed by undergoing various samskaras." Thus, the Hindu sages realised the need of consciously guiding and molding the character of individuals, instead of letting them grow in a haphazard manner.
  2. Spiritual. According to the seers, samskaras impart a higher sanctity to life. Impurities associated with the material body are eradicated by performing samskaras. The whole body is consecrated and made a fit dwelling place for the atma. According to the Atri Smruti a man is born a Shudra; by performing the Upanayana Samskara he becomes a Dvija (twice born); by acquiring the Vedic lore he becomes a Vipra (an inspired poet); and by realising Brahman (God) he becomes a Brahmin. The
    samskaras are a form of spiritual endeavor (sadhana) - an external discipline for internal spiritual edification. Thus, the entire life of a Hindu is one grand sacrament. The Isha Upanishad reveals that the final goal of the samskaras, by observing the rites and rituals is "to transcend the bondage of samsara and cross the ocean of death." To this we can add that after transcending the cycle of births and deaths, the atma attains Paramatma - the Lord Purushottam.
Although the number of samskaras prescribed by various scriptures vary, we shall consider the sixteen that are a consensus among scholars:

Related Books:

16 Hindu Samskaras by  PROF. SHRIKANT PRASOON

Hindu Samskaras A study of sacraments by Pandey Rajbali

हिन्दू धर्म के सोलह संस्कार by SACHCHIDANAND SHUKLA

हिन्दू सोलह संस्कार - वैज्ञानिक आधार by K.K. Publications

The Hindu Marriage - Vivaha Sanskara

Booking the hall, deciding on caterers, choosing the mandap and decorations, sending out the invitations, finding photographers, choosing the Priest – music, bridal outfits, nails, makeup, jewellery, matching colour schemes, groom’s outfit — Aaaaaaaah!! As the stress levels escalate and we strive to organise the wedding of the year, how much time do we get to step back and think about the rituals we are about to perform and appreciate the true meaning of the Hindu marriage ceremony?
According to Hindu Dharma, marriage is a sacrament. Its purpose is to create and develop a religious and spiritual outlook in life. Marriage influences the personality of man and woman as life partners, enabling them to take their rightful place in society.
Vivaha or marriage is the fifteenth samskara among the 16 samskaras(shodasa samskaras or sacraments) in a Hindu's life.
Hindu marriage is solemnised in accordance with an approved ritual instructed by the VEDAS, the holy scriptures of the Hindus. According to Hindu Dharma the ceremony of marriage is a firm uniting of two jIvAtmAs such that after marriage the individual bodies remain as separate entities but the jIvAtmAs merge into one harmonious whole. The idea behind the institution of marriage in Hindu Dharma is to foster not self-interest, but love for the entire family (and society). It is the love and duty cultivated for the entire family that prevents break-ups. During the nuptial ceremony in a Vedic marriage, both the bride and the bridegroom take an oath for the practice of self-restraint, to work together for the welfare of the family & Dharma and to help each other attain spiritual peace. This lofty ideal of sanctity is a great gift of Hindu Dharma to the world at large.
The majority of a Hindu marriage ceremony takes place inside a four-pole canopy termed the mandap and takes place in different stages.

Stages of the Hindu Marriage Ceremony

Vara Satkaarah: As soon as the bridegroom’s party arrives, they are warmly welcomed by the bride’s family. At the entrance of the hall the bride’s mother receives the groom by applying a tilak (red kumkum powder and uncooked rice) to signify good luck on the groom’s forehead and blesses him. The bridegroom is welcomed and treated like Mahavishnu (Supreme God) as will the bride be treated as Laxmi (Supreme Goddess). The priest and the bride’s parent lead the bridegroom and his parents to the stage where they are given appropriate seats.
The bride then enters at the mandap escorted by her maternal uncles after which she is seated to the right hand side of the bridegroom.
Achamana and Angasparsha: All Hindu religious ceremonies begin with two observances, namely Achaman or sipping a small amount of water and Angasparsha or touching one’s limbs with one’s right hand middle two fingers with a little water. Achaman is purificatory and conducive to peaceful attitude of mind. Angasparsha is intended to pray for physical strength and alertness.
Madhuparka ceremony: Madhuparka is a nutritious drink composed of honey, curd and ghee or clarified butter. The Madhuparka ceremony dates back thousands of years when Rishis and sages used it as a means of welcoming guests. In the wedding ceremony, madhuparka is offered to the bridegroom by the bride’s parents. This act is symbolic of the sweetness and joy that the bridegroom hopes will be a part of his and his new bride’s life together.

Kanya Daan: This is probably the most important and most symbolic part of a wedding ceremony. ‘Kanya’ means daughter and ‘Daan’ means giving away, hence in this part of the wedding ceremony the bride’s parents give her away by entrusting her to the bridegroom. The officiating priest chants appropriate verses in Sanskrit, to notify that the parents have not willingly expressed their wish and consent, by requesting the groom to accept their daughter as his bride.
Vivah-homa: All solemn rites and ceremonies commence with the performance of Homa (sacred fire ceremony or Havan yajna) among the followers of Vedic religion. The idea is to begin all auspicious undertakings in an atmosphere of purity and spirituality. This atmosphere is created by the burning of fragrant herbs and ghee and by the recitation of suitable Mantras. The Achaman and Angasparsha are performed for the second time, with the bride also participating.

Pani-Grahanam: This is the acceptance of the bride by the bridegroom as his wife. The bridegroom raises the bride’s hand with his left hand, clasps it and promises to protect her and their progeny, follow in the path of virtue with her and overcome all obstacles so that they may live a life of happiness and attain their spiritual goals together.

Pratigna-karanam: At this stage the couple walk around the fire and take solemn vows of loyalty, steadfast love and life-long fidelity to each other.
Shilarohanam: ‘Shila’ means stone. ‘Arohan’ means ascending or stepping upon. The mother of the bride assists her to step onto a stone and counsels her to prepare herself for a new life. A married couple are likely to encounter ups and downs, joys and sorrows, sickness and health. In spite of difficulties facing them they are enjoined to remain steadfast and true to each other.
Laja Homa: During this stage of the ceremony, oblations are offered to the sacred fire. The brother of the bride puts fried rice into her hands, half of which slips into the bridegroom’s hands under hers, which then slips into the fire. This is done three times over whilst the bride prays to Yama, the God of death, for the long life, happiness and prosperity of her new husband.
Agni-Parikrama/Mangal Fera/Pradakshina: This stage is one of the most auspicious parts of the ceremony and consists of the couple walking around the fire clockwise four times. It is believed that the moon protects the bride for the first seven years of her life followed by the sun in the next seven years of her life after which agni (fire) acts as her custodian. Hence appropriate respect is given to agni by carrying out this custom of walking around the fire. This custom coupled with that of saptapadi establishes an indissoluble matrimonial bond between the couple. In the first three rounds the groom leads the bride around the fire during which God’s blessings and help are sought; loyalty to each other is emphasised and a promise for the well-being and care of their future children is made. In the final round the bride leads the groom around the sacred fire and she promises that she will lead her life according to Dharma and Satya (devotion and truth). At the end of the four rounds they exchange seats, the bride taking her seat to the left of the bridegroom.
Saptapadi: The ends of the bridegroom’s scarf and upper garment of the bride are tied together by the priest, signifying the marriage knot. Then both stand facing the north ready to take seven steps. The bridegroom places his right hand on the right shoulder of the bride and they take the first step in the northeasterly direction.
Uncooked grains of rice are placed in a line at equal distance at seven places. The bride and the groom take seven steps together as the priest recites mantras – each step signifies a different aspect of marriage that they hope to uphold together with the final goal of being true companions and remaining life-long partners through wedlock.
The wife takes her rightful place on the left side of her husband as the marriage is now religiously solemnized in its entirety. Now the couple are husband and wife. The husband garlands the wife and she in turn garlands her husband.
Saubhagya-chinha: The bridegroom blesses his bride by putting sindhur (vermillion powder) at the parting of her hair on her forehead and by giving her a mangalsutra (sacred necklace).

Abhishekh, Surya Darshan & Dhruva Dhyaanam Darshanam va: The priest sprinkles water on the bride and groom after which they both meditate on the sun to give them power to lead a creative, useful and meaningful life. Finally they both meditate on the pole star and the Arundhati star (Dhruva Dhyaanam Darshanam va). The Pole Star is stationary and fixed in its position; likewise the couple is expected to be steadfast and firm in fulfilling their vows and responsibilities . Arundhati was the devoted wife of the sage Vashishtha, therefore by meditating on the Arundhati star they both consolidate their devotion for each other.

Anna Prashanam: In the last symbolic rite the couple make offerings of food into the sacred fire with chantings of Vedic Havan Mantras. Having done this, the couple feed a morsel of food to each other – symbolic of mutual love and affection.

Aashirvaadah: This is the final stage where there is benediction by the elders. Firstly the priest blesses the newly wed couple, after which other elders do the same.

What role does a Hindu marriage play in the 'westernized' world today?

Living in the westernized world, many 'new generation' Hindus have ruled out the Hindu marriage ceremony opting for the quicker, more westernized ceremony of being married by a registrar. Is the traditional wedding ceremony still necessary? The answer most definitely lies in the actual significance of the Hindu marriage. According to Sanatan Dharma, marriage is not just a social contract in the modern sense of the word, but a religious or spiritual institution; a sacrament. As Hindus we must recognize that besides the two human parties, the bride and the bridegroom, there is a spiritual or divine element in marriage. In Hindu Dharma, a marriage between two persons is a sacred relationship that is not limited to this life alone. It extends across seven or more lives, during which the couple help each other evolve spiritually. It seems fitting therefore that the marriage of a Hindu couple be solemnized at a high spiritual level and in a spiritual atmosphere.
Hindu seers and sages were responsible for the advent of Marriage as institution to regulate the good order in society. It was the beginning of civilization as we know it and ruled out women being regarded as just objects of pleasure. Shakti, the mother(feminine aspect) of all creation is worshipped by Hindus. The rites and rituals of Hindu marriage date back to our forefather Manu. In Manu Smriti it has been laid down that Hindus should conceive of marriage as a union meant for the performance of religious and spiritual duties. It could not take place without the performance of sacred rites and ceremonies. Although the modern age has given rise to adaptations to the way in which we carry out Hindu weddings, it seems appropriate that we continue passing down certain traditions that have been with us since time immemorial.

Related Books: