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Instilling values through the Shodasha Samskaras by Smt. Varalakshmi

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.

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