According to place, time, sect, different practices, etc. the actual count of ‘sanskar’ is different. According to ‘Goutam Dharma Sutra’, they are 40 in number & according to ‘Aangiras Smruti’, they are 25 in number. According to ‘Vyaas Smruti’, they are 16 in number and termed as ‘Shodash Sanskars’ (षोडश संस्कार).
The life of a Hindu person is wrapped around by various ‘sanskars’. The ‘sanskar’ is said to be helping for achieving spiritual nourishment, peace of mind and ultimately ‘Moksha’. ‘Sanskar’ give a spiritual touch to the important events, at different stages – right from pre birth to post death.
1. GARBHADHAAN - गर्भाधान (Conception)
This is the first ‘sanskar’. It is the enthusiastic prayer for a child and is done for the fulfillment of parental duty to continue the race. This is to be performed immediately after wedding takes place and before conjugal rite (i.e. before the newly wedded couple start their sexual activities). In this ritual, after initial ‘swastivachan’, ‘homam’ is performed, ‘mantra’ recited and oblations are offered to the various deities.
2. PUMSAVAN - पुंसवन (Fetus Protection)
The significance of this ‘sanskar’ is to invoke health, intelligence & divine qualities in the child. It is performed preferably during the second month of pregnancy.
In this ritual, after initial ‘swastivachan’, ‘homam’ is performed. Oblations are offered to the deity called ‘Prajapati’ and ‘mantra’ recited.
3. SIMANTONNAYAN - सीमंतोन्नयन (Satisfy wishes of the pregnant mother)
This is performed during the fourth month of pregnancy and prayers are offered for especially mental growth of the child. This ‘sanskar’ is performed only in the first pregnancy. This ‘sanskar’ is generally performed along with ANAVALOBHANA – अनवलोभन, to give the stability to the infant in the mother’s womb & also to avoid miscarriage. In this ritual, after initial ‘swastivachan’, ‘homam’ is performed and oblations are offered to the various deities.
4. VISHNUBALI - विष्णुबली (For ease of Delivery)
This is also much important ‘sanskar’, performed in 8th month of pregnancy. This is performed in order to avoid any deformity in the child as well as for easy delivery.
In this ritual, after initial ‘swastivachan’, ‘mantra’ recited and oblations are offered by husband & wife together.
5. JAATAKARM - जातकर्म (Childbirth)
This is performed as soon as the birth of child takes place ( no sooner he / she comes from the womb ) but before being separated from mother ( नालच्छेदनापूर्वी ). This is performed as a welcome sign to the new born child into the family.
This consists of
A) uttering “Waak” (वाक्) word in the right ear of newborn for 3 times
B) to taste ghee+honey to the newborn with golden spoon
C) reciting ‘medhajanan sukta’ & ‘aayushyakaran’ ‘mantra’
D) feeding the newborn by mother with her right breast first.
For this ‘sanskar’, a ritual is suggested with ‘homam’. Nowadays, due to the practical difficulties, it is not possible to perform on the same day. However, it can be performed on the 12th or 13th day from birth, at the time of ‘Namakarana’.
6. NAAMKARAN - नामकरण (Naming child)
This is performed on the 12th or 13th day after birth. The baby child gets name on completion of this ‘sanskar’. Many times, ‘Karnavedh sanskar’ (कर्णवेध) is also performed along with this. In this ‘sanskar’, both the ears of the child are pierced at a particular point, with a pointed golden wire. This is performed in order to eliminate any possibilities of diseases like Hernia & Hydrocele. Also, it is thought that with ‘Karnavedh’ any possibilities of mental disturbances can be removed and memory of the child can be improved. For this ‘sanskar’, an elaborate ritual is designed.
7. NISHKRAMAN - निष्क्रमण (Taking the child outdoors)
This is performed when the child is taken out of the home – preferably to the temple, for the first time. This is done in the 2nd or 3rd month. The reason for this ‘sanskar’ is to show obedience to the earth, water, sun, air & sky - the ‘Panchmahabhuta’ and supposed to enhance the physical as well as mental development of the child. There is no formal ritual prescribed for this ‘sanskar’ and this is limited to the family members only.
8. ANNAPRASHAN - अन्नप्राशन (Giving the child solid food)
This is performed in order to introduce different tastes of food and to increase digestive power of the child. It is generally performed in the sixth month but could be done later, till completion of one year. A small ritual could be performed.
9. CHUDAKARM - चूडाकर्म (Hair cutting)
This is performed in the third year of child, in order to sharpen the intellect & for his / her long lasting life. It consists of shaving the head of a child & maintaining ‘shikha’ (शेंडी) on head. Nowadays, this ‘sanskar’ is performed at the time of ‘Upanayan ’. In this ritual, after initial ‘swastivachan’, ‘homam’ is performed, ‘mantra’ recited and oblations are offered to the various deities.
10. UPANAYAN - उपनयन (Sacred thread)
This is the most important ‘sanskar’, which marks the beginning of the next stage of life of the child. The word ‘Upanayan’ means bringing near. The child is bought near to his master viz. ‘Guru’. It is believed that the child takes second birth– a spiritual birth (द्विज) after this ‘sanskar’. This Sanskar is performed after completion of seven years & before completion of 8th year. From here onwards, the child enters into ‘Brahmacharyashram’. In this ritual, after initial ‘swastivachan’, ‘homam’ is performed and oblations are offered to the various deities. (Explained in details separately)
11. MAHANAMNI – महानाम्नी
12. MAHAVRAT - महाव्रत
13. UPANISHADVRAT – उपनिषदव्रत
Above three ’Sanskars’ are performed by ‘Guru’ on his disciple, after completion of minimum 5 years of study, post ‘Upanayan’.
14. GODAN – गोदान
This ‘Sanskar’ is performed after completion of study of a disciple. In this ’sanskar’, a cow is presented to the ‘Guru’, with a proper ritual.
15. SAMAAVARTAN - समावर्तन (Symbol of completing education)
This is performed after completion of minimum 12 years of study and before marriage. The student, learning at ‘Gurukul’, must take the permission of his ‘Guru’ for the performance of this ‘sanskar’. From here onwards, the young boy is ready to enter the life of a house holder. At the end of this ritual, ‘Guru’ gives him important guidelines & tips for his further life.(Explained in details separately)
16. VIVAH - विवाह (Marriage)
After this ‘sanskar’, the life begins as an individual family and the youth enter into ‘Grihasthashram’. While entering this stage of life, the man has to take on his duties, offer sacrifices, earning money required for family and procreating spiritual & healthy children. In this ritual, after initial ‘swastivachan’, various small rituals are performed and oblations are offered by husband & wife together.(Explained in details separately)