Indic Knowledge systems holds the key to unlocking, various otherwise seemingly enigmatic natural processes. At its core this system of science deals with the whole of this cosmic creation as a manifestation of an underlying intelligence (purusha). In the series of articles we plan to bring the readers the interconnections between popular research areas of neuroscience, epigenetics, artificial intelligence with that of Indian sciences of Yoga, Ayurveda, Siddha, Jyotisha. The articles will also explore scientific basis of traditional best practices that has been passed on to us through the civilisational continuum. The idea is to use this platform as a mode of science communication of the Indic sciences citing authentic research articles, proposing new areas of research and to share the knowledge for the benefit of the global community.
The shodasha samskaras detailed in our sanatana dharma are well structured methods/ceremonies that an individual undergoes at appropriate ages in his lifetime so that he gets initiated into appropriate value-processes and there is a chance for noble values to get integrated with oneself. Shodasha means sixteen and samskaras are the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions and intents that an individual has ever experienced. They can be thought of as psychological imprints. Samskara is also used in different contexts across indic literature For Eg: As simple as the act of using hands can be a refined process and lead to transformation if the intent of action is directed correctly. If we use our hands say to help the needy it becomes a samskara while the same hands if used to get quick work done and achieve worldly objectives it becomes prakrutika, but when used to cause harm to others say by engaging in fist fight it becomes vikara. The following are the widely accepted 16 refined processes which are performed to mark progress in key life events:
Garbhadhana - Women is a universal nurturer. When she attains to an appropriate age the process of purification of her womb for the arrival of a foetus is called garbhadhana. This act of conception is performed with the intent of offering her womb to welcome an arriving soul and hence is raised to a sacred occasion.
Pumsavana - This ceremony is performed when the first signs of conception are seen typically between second and fourth month of the pregnancy. Through this process the gender of the foetus is determined and is absolved of all past crimes. It is a shuddhi process for the conceived foetus ensuring proper organ development such that the family line and tradition is thus continues through the unborn child.
Seemantonayan - During the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy when neurodevelopmental stage of the foetus starts this ceremony is performed to protect both the mother and foetus from negative influences. A ceremony of parting of the hairs of the expectant mother to keep her spirits high & positive. Special music is arranged for her. In southern India this ceremony also entails the mother being given blessings from all elders of the family and adorns lot of bangles till end of pregnancy. It is said that it removes the expectant mother’s sins obtained from the parents and also removes the sins arising due to the seed, blood and womb.
Jatakarma - After birth the child is given a secret name, sometimes he/she is given taste of honey & ghee, mother starts the first breast-feeding after chanting of a mantra. The function also includes noting the birth time and star to create a birth chart of the child.
Nama-karana — On the 11th day after child birth, the infant is given a formal name which forms as his/her identity in this world. Usually the name of the child is chosen to be of deity names so that the soul identifies itself with the paramatma.
Nishkramana - In this the formal darshan of sun & moon is done for the child. That is the child is first taken out from the confines of the home and establishes contact with the external world. Usually the child is taken to consecrated space such as the temple so that his/her first experience of the world around is sanctified.
Annaprashana - This ceremony is performed after the sixth month from birth, when the child is given solid food (anna) for the first time. In the womb while the mother’s nutrition would have nourished the foetus and after birth till now the child would have consumed only mother’s milk through this the child is assured.
Chudakarana - Chuda means the ‘lock or tuft of hair’ in the top of the head is kept after shaving off the remaining. This is done at the end of one year to both boys and girls. It is said that birth hair is associated with undesirable traits from past lives. It is removed to signify freeing from past and moving into the future.
Karna-vedha — Sometimes done after chudakarana or in 7th or 8th month after birth. Karna means ears and vedha means to pierce. Piercing of the ears is performed to both male and female offspring to enable intelligence, immunity and right balance between the nadis etc., .
Upanayana - One of the esteemed of all samskaras is that of the upanayana done between the age of 8 to 12. It is also a ceremony where a holy thread is worn across the kids body to be borne till his end of his lifetime or till he gets initiated to sanyasa. This ceremony marks the initiation of the child to start the study of vedas or rather for sincere pursuit of knowledge. Traditionally the child is sent to a Guru’s ashram where he starts his learning. There are certain upasamskaras preceding & following this stage which are vidyarambha & vedarambha respectively. The former is usually marked on a vijayadasami day (the concluding day of navratri festival) the child in initiated into the world of alphabets called as aksharabhyasa. Usually the child writes the letter om in sand or rice under the supervision of a guru with his parents presence. The latter is deep study of veda in the gurus ashram where his knowledge under the gurus guidance and grace grows manifolds such that he/she becomes capable of understanding dharma and actionate across the purusharthas.
Keshanta - Usually is done when the first facial hair is removed at around the age of 16 for boys. In case of girls ritushuddhi is done when she getShe gets the blessings of elders and sweets are given to her. Caraka samhita sharira sthana says preparation for garbhadana samskara starts from this stage itself.
Samavartan - This marks the end of studies or graduation of the child and returning to the house where he is now eligible for marriage and raise a family — the phase of gruhastashrama
Vivaha - The wedding ceremony is second important of all samskaras. Two beings unite by doing agni parikrama and vow to uphold dharma across all walks of life. They vow to be best friends of each other by taking the saptapadi(seven steps) together. The very auspicious kanyadhaan ceremony is also a part of vivaha samskara. In some households the couple also perform the panchamahayagna samskara as an oblation to rishis, gods, parents and all living beings. It is extremely auspicious for the married couple to perform the purifying ritual of agnihotra daily.
Vanaprastha - As old age approaches, the never ending desire pattern subsides and the person retires for a life of tapas & studies focussed towards attaining the source principle. The couple through the wisdom gained during the course of their life guide the young ones and serve the society.
Sanyasa - In the sanatana dharma the sanyasa samskara absolves a person of his current identity before he leaves his body. He dedicates himself to serving humanity through his action and in fact by his mere existence. Through this samskara before leaving the body an individual sheds all sense of responsibility & relationships to awake & revel in the timeless truth.
Antyeshthi - After the death of an individual the last rites are performed to ensure his safe passage across the samsara sagara.