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Samskaras

Samskara means impression, hence purification. There are certain rites accompanying each ashrama, and without a due performance of these no one can be said to belong to any particular ashrama, and, therefore, to any particular varna. All customs, and all religious observances, governing even modern Hindu society, are derived from these Samskaras, and so great is the hold of religion on the Hindu mind that numerous political revolutions and the absolute sway of foreign nations, extending over centuries, have made but little alteration in the original forms.

In the beginning, the Samskaras, though not automatic, were spontaneous. There was no dogma and there was no code. Precedent was the only authority; the question of rationale did not arise. When in course of time the various ceremonies connected with the Samskaras developed and they were amplified according to the social sentiments and needs, a conscious attempt was made at the codification of the Samskaras, and dogmas were fixed. This provided for the stability of the institutional aspect of the Samskaras, but it hindered its spontaneous growth which resulted in its stultification and decay.

The Procedure of the Samskaras

The forms and procedure of the Samskaras were suggested by ovservation and reasoning. Even in early times there were elaborate and distinct procedures of the Samskaras. Their precise origin is lost in the depth of antiquity but it is certain that they originated in social needs and in course of time they assumed a religious garb. Symbols and taboos played an important part in the procedural development of the Samskaras.

In the beginning of civilizations life was much simpler than it is at present and it was not divided into compartments. Social institutions, beliefs, sentiments, arts, sciences etc. were all closely interwoven. The Samskaras covered all these fields of life. Religion was all embracing factor in ancient times and rituals were giving sanctity and stability to all possible incidents in life, and to this end, they are utilising all the moral and material resources of the world to which man had an access. This aim of the Samskaras was to create conditions for the development of an integrated personality of an individual, who can adjust himself with the world around him believed to be full of human and superhuman forces.

Samskaras and the Three Paths of Life

When in course of time the complexities of life increased and distinctions in action came to be made, the Hindus recognized three definite paths of life - 1) Karma marga (the Path of Action), 2)Upasana marga (the Path of Meditation and Worship), 3)Jnana marga (the Path of Knowledge). Though the samskaras were sufficiently comprehensive in their scope originally, they came to be included, later on, in the Path of Action (Karma marga) alone. The first path of life was a preparatory step to the second and the third ones, meant for the purification of mind (Chitta shuddhi). Therefore though the samskaras were not of the highest importance in life, they were of the primary importance and thus essential for every individual. As a matter of fact they provided a necessary training for a higher type of culture intellectual and spiritual.

Samskaras and Puranic Hinduism

The development of Puranic Hinduism synchronized with the decline of the Vedic religion and the gravity of religious life shifted from home - the venue of the samskaras - to the places of pilgimage and the temples. The emphasis was laid on the idol worship. But though the big sacrifice fell into disuse, the samskaras survived with the change that some of them, eg., the Tonsure and the Upanayana, in some cases, came to be performed at a temple instead of at home. The samskaras were so closely associated with the personal life of an individual that they clung to him or her through all changes and vicissitudes. Their hold on life was so strong that even some of the deities had to undergo some of these samskaras.

The Achievements of the Samskaras

The samskaras helped in the refinement and purification of human life, facilitated the development of personality, imparted sanctity and importance to human body, blessed all material and spiritual aspirations of man and ultimately prepared him for an easy and happy exit from this world of complexities and problems. They also helped in the solution of the many social problems of importance. For example, the Garbhadhana (Conception) and other pre-natal samskaras were connected with sex hygiene and eugenics. When the latter had not developed as independent branches of science, the samskaras were the only educative agencies in these matters. Similarly, the Vidyarambha (Learning of Alphabets) and the samskaras beginning from the Upanayana (Initiation) to the Samavartana (Returning Home from the Teacher´s) are all of highly educational importance. In early societies there was no secular agency to enforce compulsory education upon the masses. The samskaras, being compulsory, served this purpose. Every child, if he was not mentally and physically invalid, was to undergo a compulsary course of education involving learning and strict discipline. This maintained the intellectual and cultural level of the ancient Hindus. The Vivaha samskara (Marriage) regulated a number of sexual and social roblems by laying down definite rules on the types and forms of marriage, the limitations of marriage, the selection of parties and the nupitals. No doubt, these rules tended to make society static but they also added to the stability and happiness of social groups and family life. The last samskara, the Antyesti (Funerals) combined the duties of a house holder towards the dead and the living. It was wonderful combination of family and social hygiene and consolation for the survivors. Thus, the samskaras operated in the practical life as a graduated scheme of human life and its development.

Prospects

The samskaras were the expressin of human beliefs, sentiments, aspirations, hopes and fears, and they catered for human needs. With changes in life they are bound to change. By scientific discoveries many mysteries of life have been solved and man´s control over his environment has immensely increased. Many natural forces which were feared or respected have become docile servants of man. Material resources of life are getting multiplied. Many fields of life which were regarded sacred have now become secular. So, the awe and reverence with which the religious rites were performed are diminishing gradually. But in spite of all these changes in the material aspects of the world, certain central mysteries of life and some fundamental needs of human existence will remain. Though the evolutionary process of life has been analysed and studied, the origin of life, its constituents and their combinations are still puzzling the human mind, and there does not seem to be any possibility of solving the central problem of life satisfactorily. At the source of life man is even today experiencing the mystic touch of the invisible. This fact will keep alive the religious sentiments in man. Though the magic hold of religion in some fields of life will be loosened, the human heart will not part with the sanctity which is imparted by religious sanction. The consecration of life will never cease. Similarly the fact that life is an art and it requires conscious and planned efforts for its cultivation and refinement will never die out. The art of race culture and nation building will always form an important part of human progress. The samskaras will change their old garbs and will assume new shapes

Sacraments - Samskaras.
There are sixteen main Sacraments (Samskaras). These range from conception to funeral ceremonies.
1. Garbhadhan (Sacrament of Impregnation).
2. Punsavanam (second or third month of pregnancy).
3. Simantonnayana (between the fifth and eighth month of pregnancy).
4. Jatakarma (At the time when the child is being born).
5. Namakarana (Naming the child).
6. Niskramana (Child is brought out of house.3rd and 4th month).
7. Annaprashana (The first feeding of cereal at six months).
8. Chudakarma (First time cutting of hair, 1st year or 3rd year).
9. Karnavedha (Piercing the ears in the third or fifth year).
10. Upanayana (Investiture of Sacred Thread) From 8th year.
11. Samavartana (When studies are completed).
12. Vivaha Samskara (Marriage ceremony).
13. Grihasthashrama (Sacraments relating to house-holders.).
14. Vanprasthashrama (Renouncing the house-holder's life).
15. Sanyasashrama. (Leading the life of a monk).
16. Antyeshti (Funeral: last rites of the dead).



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