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
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
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
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
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
7. Annaprashana (The first feeding of cereal at six months).
8. Chudakarma (First time cutting of hair, 1st year or 3rd
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).