Vani’s Musings

Shodasha Samskaaras

Posted on: February 19, 2007

In Indian culture there are sixteen major samskaras (rites of passage) to be performed by or for an individual beginning with conception and continuing up to the last rites performed after death. These samskaras are meant to cultivate positive qualities which help purify the soul and ultimately lead it to Realization, or union with God.The literal meaning of the word Samskara is to purify or to refine.

There are forty samskaras prescribed of which sixteen, called the Shodasha samskaras, are in vogue today. There are a few samskaras which do not come under the classification above, but which are also widely performed like performing puja to the foundation stone of a building, the milk-boiling ritual before one starts living in a new house, etc.

The Shodasha samskaras are to be done in the five different stages of a human life i.e. – the prenatal years, the childhood years, the student years, the adulthood years and the old age or wisdom years. They are

1.     Garbhadana  – is performed by a married couple when conceiving a child. This important Samskara raises the act of conception to a sacred occasion, and is powerfully purifying and uplifting for the unborn child.

 2. Pumsavana – is usually performed between the second and fourth month of pregnancy. Its purpose is: first, to promote the birth of a male child (for perpetuation of the family line and tradition); second, to insure the good health of the foetus and the proper formation of its organs, regardless of gender.

3. Simantonnayana Samskara – In the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy, the mind of the foetus begins to develop. This is when Simantonnayana Samskara is performed. Its purpose is to protect the foetus–especially its newly forming mind–from all negative influences, and also to stimulate the development of the unborn child’s intellect.

4. Jatakarma – is the ritual performed at the birth of a child. It awakens the child’s intellect, gives it strength, and promotes long life for the child.

5. Namakarana  – On the eleventh day after the child’s birth, namakarana Samskara is performed. In this ceremony, the child receives its name.

 6. Nishkramana – The baby’s first outing into the world, beyond the confines of the home, is the occasion of nishkramana.

7. Annaprashana – The first feeding of solid food to the baby, usually in the sixth month after birth, is the occasion of Annaprashana

 8. Karnavedha Samskara – usually performed in the sixth or seventh month after birth, consists of the piercing of the baby’s ear lobes, so earrings may be worn.

 9. Chudakarana Samskara – At the end of the first year after birth, or during the third year, the child’s hair is shaved–all but a tuft on the top of the head. This ritual shaving of hair, performed with ceremony, prayers, and chanting of Vedic hymns, is chudakarana Samskara This Samskara is for both boys and girls.

 10. Aksharabhyaasa: begins a student’s primary education by ceremonially introducing the child to the alphabet

11. Upanayana Samskara – initiates the formal study of the Vedas. It is one of the most important and esteemed of the samskaras. Upon performance of Upanayana, a boy traditionally moves from home to live in the ashram of the guru. 

12. Samavartana Samskara – With samavartana Samskara the disciple graduates from his Vedic studies and returns from the house of his guru. Thereafter, the disciple will marry and raise a family, and so enter the stage of householder, grihasthashrama.

13. Vivaha – The traditional Hindu wedding ceremony is known as Vivaha Samskara It is considered by many to be the most important of all the samskaras.

14. Panchamahayagna – A married couple performs the panchamahayajna, or five great sacrifices, daily. In this Samskara, one honours, in turn, the rishis (ancient seers of Truth), the gods, the ancestors, humankind, and all created beings.

15. Vanaprastha Samskara – According to the Vedic tradition, vanaprastha is the third stage of life, following brahmacharya (Vedic student/disciple) and grihasta (householder). Here, a man leaves behind his life in the world and retires to the forest (with or without his wife), to live an ascetic life devoted to study of the scriptures and to meditation.

16. Antyeshti Samskara – The final sacrament, the funeral rites, are known as antyeshti Samskara


30 Responses to "Shodasha Samskaaras"

super vani… Very very very informative post.

Nishakarmana mathu Samavartana Samskara iveradara bagge saadhyavadreinnashtu beLaku chelli

Karnavedha is not in practice among all communities now. Can you give us more details on to why it needs to be done and why is it important? It has been continued as a tradition in many a families, but little people know why and whats it all about

adbhuta nimma jnana kosha
barali innu hechhina vicharagalu horage
tarali namagella vichara tiluvalike
nimage sigali bhagavantana krupe
sada a dayamayana krupe nimagirali
very good post and I dont have words to express

Didn’t read the complete post though…
There is one book related to this topic, which was of my interest sometime back.. I have still not thought about buying this one..

Wow, I never knew there were such intricate customs and traditions

Amazing Vani..Hats off to u yet again 🙂

Srik, the scientific reasoning for piercing the baby’s ear is as follows : The point where the ear is pierced is a nerve leading to the brain centre controlling or responsible for the emotions of arrogance, pride etc… It is believed that by rupturing this nerve in the initial stage of a baby’s life the baby learns the value HUMILITY ….

In earlier days even the baby boys would undergo this ritual..Sadly, today most of the new age parents are forgoing this ritual for the baby boys..Also the time of this ritual is important in that, it is the age when the baby begins to adapt it’s mannerisms to those of the surroundings..It assimilates and later develops the charecteristics and behaviours of the adults around… It is believed that piercing the nerve in the ear, would reduce its inherent tendency towards arrogance and pride…

wonderful hats off to you too yes slowly people are forgetting the importance of these rituals and changing over
let good senses prevail and people adopt all good things whicheve way

Thanx Pranesh Sir 🙂 Nodidre namma poorvajaru rituals antha maadiro almost yelladrallu scientific reasoning and practicality adagiratte..Adannu noduva drishti naavu kaledikondirodu namma daurbhaagya ashte 😦

Diya , Srik,

Another reason I have heard why this ritual was performed in the earlier days was during the days of muslim invasions, male children would be whisked away by the invaders, hence, to camouflage the baby’s sex, people used to pierce the ears of the male children too.

Overall quite an informative post Vani! Few queries/comments…

hence, to camouflage the baby’s sex, people used to pierce the ears of the male children too.

Vani, does that mean that till then the males were excused? And that it was ok for males to be arrogant?

Diya, also dont you feel that the nerve ending theory is a kind of artificial way of reducing a baby’s arrogance? And almost all girls go through this right, yet we see so many arrogant girls (esp depicted in TV serials 😉 all plotting against each other) so probably they would’ve been more arrogant if they’d not been pierced? (scary thought!)

first, to promote the birth of a male child

I’m surprised that this prefernce for male child has been there for so long even in our ancestors.

Wrt Vanaprastha Samskara – aren’t scriptures/meditation to help us through life by living a less ignorant life, and not at the end of life? Why study them after having lived in ignorance? One does not get a second chance, right? Nowadays at the rate of deforrestation, there aren’t many forests left!

Sanjay, no I dont…If u notice, our elders show a lot more politeness and humility than us… The respect the older generation give to their elders is hardly given by us to our elders so very unfailingly….As for TV serials……Reel vs Real seems to have become confusing 😉

Sanjay, Vanaprasthashrama probably mite have come into effect, as people would goto Kaashi for the yatre at the fag end of their lives, after living their lives true to its Dharma, by studying/doing their duties rightfully. In those days, Dharma was not only about prostrating before a God.

It has a wide meaning, like giving away our pride and arrogance to something better is Dharma, helping a person in danger when we can afford to, is Dharma. Dharma meant being true to self and being true with others.

In such scenario, where one just indulged in his duties, duties mite range from growing food at some field to reciting vedic himns for loka kalyana or worshipping God, one need not learn any theory from books. In India, traditionally, even today, people avoid reading Vedic himns from books. They are all rendered by heart and from brains. So, I dont think one needed anything beyond just doing his duty. I dont call such life an ignorant life.

So, Vanaprasthashrama is taken after the basic purpose of his life served, means, once he becomes aged and retired, he goes to forest in search of path to Kashi, for Kashi is considered as Mukthidhaam.

It also reduces the pain of last Karma to be performed by the children ansatte alwa? So, it makes sense to perform it at the fag end of life.

Todays world, this doesnt hold good. May be retirement age is known as Vanaprastha 🙂

Diya, right our elders were kind of polite..
I still remember the way you were arguing for that marriage photo thing 🙂 paapa nimma amma!!

Sanjay, good observation… I would like to endorse your thought to an extent.. By and large, girls are more arrogant!! True in my case too.. I always wanted to win any fight with my brother though he was younger & poor chap he used to adjust for his loss…!
Well, after girls grow old & get more responsibility the experience teacher her some good lessons & thats why after marriage its a different story! ;-)!!

In my previous comment, I was talking about my brother who is elder not young.. ! correction maadi.

Wow! super details…



Vanaprashashram, the sanskrit word in the outright meaning going to a vana or forest and offering your tapas.

Rightly as you have pointed out there are no forests nor age left after reitrement to do this tapas.

In good olden dwapara et all, the woman used to be married by 9 or 12 years, finish her mother hood by 26 ( would have got bored actually) and with the man would give the responsibility of day to day affairs to sons by 40+ and just concentrate on gods name. Please note that they used to live up to 100+ as a norm and they did not have to fight for food/water.

Detachment from all thoughts except GOD is the essence of vanaprashtha parva. We have very elder people still fighting for post,power et all. This is the wrong thing. Netas are you hearing?

So you dont need to wait till retirement or look for forests. YOu can start understanding that bhandanas which bind us to worldly aspects are the root cause of all our problems. Leave those one by one as much as possible and keep thinking of GOD in every work/moment of your life.

Life is a jouney. Concentrate on the journey not the destination.

My baring sermon ends. 🙂

Akka……………….nimma maatige NO COMMENTS 😉 See how very polite I am people 😉 And Sanjay, note that this is solely due my Karnavedha Samakaara performed precisely and at the prescribed age 😉

More seriously, Akka girls are not more arrogant…. Arrogance does not see the gender before manifestation in the individual…

And regarding Vanaprastha…..A householder performs meditation and reading of the scriptures et al…Those parts related to the dharma of Grihastaashrama, though…. This is a kind of preparation to absorb the higher knowldege contained in the scriptures…And for one to reach this level of conciousness to absorb this knowledge it takes up the period of Grihastaashrama….The day one reaches this level, one enters the phase of Vanaprasthaashrama…..

What do you people think???

Grihastaashrma comes first in late teens and

vaprasthashrama come in late 40’s as the prakruthi niyama of young taking over the samsaradha responsibility on their shoulder was necessary else aged people would continue to work hard… with great difficulty and youngsters would laze around, so societnalli sajjaru ondhu system tandru ashte… 😀 so that life cycle gets passed on

Maybe another side of it was change of controls too like term of office bearers;) ex: kitchen to be taken over by daughter in law, son shld take over farming etc for nothing else only to give elders some rest….:D

Samskara karma’s might hav got evloved and formulated as phases in the name of Gods in each process making it streamlined

I concur with Diya that arrogance does not look at gender.

Mohan that kind of detachment is good to speculate about, but when actually in a situation – could be either difficult situation (strong hatred to situation) or very enjoyable situation (strong attachment to situation) – that’s where we really practice it. Even if once in a way, we overcome, the situation may recur like waves like I’ve written in a recent post, and we need to build up a lot of inner strength to withstand them and not get toppled over by them.

Srik, I liked your explanation esp the part that one needn’t be very well read in theory – find it quite agreeable. Just to clarify, by ignorant life I meant when we feel anger or depression etc in many situations and we’re not able to overcome them. We feel such things only because of our ignorance. Also we don’t really know how the reactions which we consider as trivial situations are also accumulating within us. We simply justify them saying its the same for everyone else, why should we be different.

Btw even before grihastashrama one has to explore the world first – that is where Kashi Yatre comes into picture 🙂

Thing is, we have only a limited lifespan. At time of death – its very hard to know which of our reactions will surface. It could even be something from previous lives! It could drag us to be reborn into lower realms from which one gets stuck in for a very long time. Look at the lives of rats for example, the whole life it is full of fear afraid that something might kill it, yet always searching for food! Nobody wants to be reborn as a rat! Or the lives of an animal like a tiger – always it has to kill to eat its food, even though to perform the act of killing any creature has to generates so much of desensitivity, hatred or desire.

This human life is very precious because it can be used to come out of the samsaara cycle.

sanjay says: “first, to promote the birth of a male child

I’m surprised that this prefernce for male child has been there for so long even in our ancestors.”

i remembered reading – long ago – about an incident in sage agastya’s life in an amar chitra katha, but i thought that it might not have been real – but looks like it is an accepted detail.

vani says: “Another reason I have heard why this ritual was performed in the earlier days was during the days of muslim invasions, male children would be whisked away by the invaders, hence, to camouflage the baby’s sex, people used to pierce the ears of the male children too.”

that is what i heard too!

– s.b.

Thanks each one of you for wonderful comments with due reasoning.
The stages in each’s life is determined in a way the people should not run away from problems you must undergo all the phases of life and then go to mukthi marga. all karma should be done in the manner in which it is expected to be done. this also ensures that
the family will not be left in dark. so go through all the phases and do your reading (vedhadyana) then gruhasthashrma complete your committments to family and near and dear then when you have lived though all worldly affairs then you are supposed to take up vanasprastha. essence here is you must learn to sacrifice what you have enjoyed. even sanyas ashrama in some madhwa mathas are supposed to be taken only after marriage and isses only. and then you must be so
firm that you will able to withstand the needs and able to be an example to others. This also ensures you have gone through all facets where as we see so many sanyasis who took ashrama as bala sanyasis are not able to continue or will indulge in certain activities in religilos places and become a place to amass wealth and enjoy life.
If you put some posts like the above which are away from routine then really it helps each one of us to think what is this and respond.
kudos to vani in particular and everyone in general

Today’s Thought For The Day by Eknath Easwaran is quite timely! 🙂

February 22

This life of separateness may be compared to a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning.
– The Buddha

Time runs out so soon! In our teens and twenties, even our thirties, we have ample margin to play with the toys life has to offer. But we should find out soon how fleeting they are, for the tides of time can ebb away before we know it.

As we grow older and our family and friends begin to pass away, we see how relentlessly time is pursuing all of us. There is no time to quarrel, no time to feel resentful or estranged. There is no time to waste on the pursuit of selfish pleasures that are over almost before they begin.

All-devouring time follows us always, closer than our shadow. As long as I live only for myself, as a little fragment apart from the whole, I cannot escape being a victim of time. It is good to bear in mind how evanescent life is so that we do not postpone the practice of meditation.

off topic:

Vani just saw your descriptions of everyone in your blogroll (comes as tool tip) and its really nice the way you’ve written… Its only a reflection of yourself that you are able to say nice things about everyone else really! 🙂

Naaaaah, Sanjay, You are making me blush!

Wow…what a lot of comments…the grey juice is flowing…..

Nice to know all of your views on the Samskaaras that were hitherto performed by some of us, and some of us will perform them in the near future and eventually.

Maybe a few of them are out of times with our generation, but it gives a sense of identity in the world according to me, to practice them, and to keep up our culture, that is more than 5000 years old, alive.

Thanks everyone, and let the comments flow. Keep watching this space for more “culture dose”! 🙂

Vani madam, you have been tagged. Please do the needful 🙂

Vani, have connected this post to today’s photo on my blog. Thanks for the relevant post.. Hope this is fine.

Oh absolutely no problem Veenakka…..please do so whenever u feel that the topics are connected.

Respected Madam,

I am desirious of attending a interactive session of Shodasa Samskara on 30th and 31st October. I wold like to get a brief information about all. I have gone through the listed 16 samskaras. If you can send me slightly detailed information on these , I shall be thankful to you.

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