Shodasha Samskaras or Sixteen Rites of Passage

Shodasha samskara

A human birth is a step towards final journey. According to Hindu philosophy, a soul will pass through 84 lakh yoni janmas or births in different forms before attaining human form. And this journey will never end here. The soul will again get many human births before attaining final liberation. In this process, one will perform many good and bad deeds. One will get rebirth based on his/her karma and desires. While traveling through different lives, the soul gets attracted to many impurities and gets distracted from the path. When a soul enters the body, it forgets its path and entangles itself in indriyas or sense organs. Therefore some process needs to be put in place in order to discipline the soul.

Samskara literally means making perfect, to prepare, to purify. Samskaras are ceremonies which will convert a crude human to a refined, responsible and developed human being. As human beings are evolved from animals, some animalistic characteristics are inherited and still be present in him. The animal life revolves around only four aspects, they are – food, sleep, procreation and security. According to Hindu philosophy, these sixteen samskaras uplift the human beings, supplements divine consciousness and create a harmony in the society. Samskaras in vedic tradition involves specific rituals, mantra chanting, homas etc. The rituals bring positive impressions to the body and mind.

One human life itself involves several phases – childhood, youth, married life, parenthood, retired life and death. We cannot live in childhood forever. We have to take up next responsibility in appropriate time. These samskaras are the mechanisms to remind us in terms of progression.

These samskaras are divided into four parts. They are:

Pre-natal Samskaras

  1. Garbhadana on Conception – rites which purify the parents
  2. Pumsavana – rites to beget a good progeny
  3. Seemanthonnayana or Seemanta – rite for the protection of mother and womb

Samskaras of Childhood

  1. Jatakarma – rite of a newborn infant
  2. Namakarana – ceremony of naming a child
  3. Nishkramana – first outing into the world
  4. Annaprashana – first feeding of solid food
  5. Chudakarma – first haircut
  6. Karnavedha – piercing the ears

Educational Samskaras

  1. Vidyarambha or Aksharabhyasa – beginning of education
  2. Upanayana (Sacred thread ceremony) – Opening the eye of wisdom, meeting the first guru
  3. Vedarambha – Initiating the formal study of Vedas
  4. Keshantha and Ritushuddhi – first shave for boys and attaining maturity for girls
  5. Samavartana – Completion of education (Graduation ceremony)

Other Samskaras

  1. Vivaha – Marriage ceremony
  2. Antyeshti – Last rites or cremation

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