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Other observances

1. Introduction

Every religion has its rites and rituals to help us one along the journey of life . We flutter like " the candle in the wind " during our stay on this earth until we reach the Lord's abode . Hindusism has a most beautiful set of FOURTY SAMSKARAS for our spiritual welfare from the time of conception to the final moment on His LeelA vibuthi . These samskArAs form the core of a Hindu"s life .

These are rites performed to help the human being to purify their body and mind in " seen and unseen ways ." The seen aspect is the creation of a shining new object by removing dirt and grime from a tarnished object with detergents . The unseen aspect , according to one AchAryA is that the SamskArAs are like the sanctification of the water by "charging" it with the Veda mantrAs for punyAvAchanam and Udaka sAnthi rites .

There is a proper age and time in human life to perform these samskArAs . If that is followed , it is believed that the efects( benefits ) of the samskArAs are the greatest . Out of compassion for us , the laggards , our merciful sAsthrAs give us " substitute periods ( kaalAs ) " , if one misses the appropriate time recommended by the SAsthrAs .

The life of the Hindu rotates around these series of life cycle rituals referred to as SamskArAs . They are rooted in the eternal VedAs . The minimum number of SamskArAs to be observed by men and women vary . Manu , Gautama, ApasthampA , Yaj~navalkyA and other kalpa sutra kaarAs have written extensively on these samskArAs and the proper procedure to perform them to gain maximum seen and unseen benefits . Great AchAryAs of Ahobila mutt like the 25th , 26th , 27th , 42 nd and the current Jeeyars have written extensively and have left great ahnika granthAs . These granthAs are known as SadAchaara NirNayam and dwell at great length on the nityA and naimmitthika karmAs . I will write about the SamskArAs in this and subsequent postings .

2. What is a samskaaraa ?

According to the Tarka sAsthrAs , the word SamskArA is defined as " an impression on the memory " .Steady pracise of scriptural injunctions establishes firm tracks in the memory so that the practitioner does not swerve from the correct path . According to another defenition , SamskArA means " betterment " ( Sams ) of a thing ( kaaram ) . The cleansing process set in motion by the observance of SamskArAs leads to the betterment of life and qualifies a person for spiritual upliftment .

3. Samskaara & the aatma gunaas

The practise of SamskArAs develop eight auspicious guNAs ( attributes ) that help to remove the samsAric ills caused by the sensory attachments . Since these guNAs have an impact on the soul , they are described as Aathma GuNAs . A steady practise of the samskArAs leading to the acquisition of the aathma guNAs helps a person to attain the state of akhanda aathma anubhavam , the supreme experience exemplified by the tenets of Sri VisishTaadvaitham that celebrates the " Oneness" of the supreme being ( brahman ) , who is qualified by " the gross and subtle forms of the sentient and insentient entities , at the two states of manifestation and dissolution of the universe " . The akhandAthama anubhavam extolled by AzhwArs and AcharyAs in their granthams is the elaboration oft he concept that " the Lord is the soul and that the world of men and matter constitutes His body " .

4. The eight aathma gunaas

The names of the eight aathma guNAs are worthy of being commented upon especially at this time , when we went through some difficult times :

1. DAYAA or univeral compassion and love for all living beings 2. KSHAANTHI or tolerance of ill-wishers 3. ANUSUYAI or freedom from jealousy or rancour 4.SAUCHAM or body cleanliness 5. ANAAYASAM or relaxed state characterized by EASE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHERS 6. MANGALAM or inner happiness radiating as harmonious conduct 7 . AKAARPANYAM or generosity of spirit and time 8 . ASPRUHAM or detached state of mind arising from a dispassionate nature

5. Nishekaathi smasaanaantha samskaaraas

The samskArAs cover the life span of a Hindu rom the time of formation (conception ) of the embryo (nishEkam ) to the time of cremation in the burning ghaat (smasaanam ) . Agni is an indispensable part of the samskArAs that cover the entire span of on's life . Agni is therefore saluted as a witness to the samskArAs . Even cremation is considered as an offering of the ghee-smeared body to Agni as the ultimate offering .

6. Place and time for samskaaraas

Some of the samskArAs are not time consuming , whereas the others are elaborate and require continous performance over many days . Some of the samskArAs are done at home , whereas the others need a spacious site as well as extensive time for the collection of the rquired utensils representing the body of Yaj~na VarAha Murthy , ingredients ( saamagris ) and helpers ( rthviks ) .

A number of samskArAs --OupAsanA , AgnihOthrA and the pancha MahA Yaj~nAs -- have to be performed daily . Two other samskArAs -- Darsa PoorNa Maasa and SthAlipAkA -- have to be practised twice a month . ParvaNi srArdhA has to be conducted once a month . Rest of the samskArAs have to be performed once a year or atleast once in one's life time .

7. Classifications of the samskaaraas

The fourty samskaaraas can be split into the following six categories :

1. a set of seven starting from GarbhadhAnA to Chudakramaa 2. Another set of seven starting from UpanayanA to VivAhA 3. A group of five Yaj~nAs known as Pancha MahA Yaj~nAs 4. A set of seven Paka Yaj~nAs 5. A group of seven Havir Yaj~nAs 6. Another group of seven Soma Yaj~nAs

8. Before upanayanaa

All the seven samskArAs prior to Upanayanaa are performed by the parents on behalf of the child , since it has not reached the stage of discriminating knowledge . These are :

8.1. Garbhadhaanam :

The placement of the seed by the husband in the wife's womb is known as GarbhAdhAnam .From the moment the embryo forms , the life cycle rituals of the Hindu begins . The married couple have to conceive in a state of mind tamed and purified by the Vedic rites of Saanthi KalyANam . This way , they can conceive a child with auspicious qualities . The " Jaayamaana KatAksham " of Sriman NaarAyaNaa helps towards the birth of great devotees such as DhruvA . In his outstanding Sri Desika Darsana PanchAngam released by Sri SevA SwamigaL , he points out that the days , when the following stars are inascendance are auspicious for garbhAdhAnam : Asvini , UtthirAdam , Satayam , Uttaram , Hastham , Chitthirai and SvAthi .

8.2. Pumsavana samskaaraa :

This is to be performed during the third month of pregnancy , which is much before quickening of the growth of the embryo .

8.3. Simanthonayana samskaaraa

This samskArA (hair parting of the pregnant mother) has to be performed either in the sixth month or in the eighth month of pregnancy . One should not combine the Pumsavana wiht the SimanthOnayana samskaaram , as is being done these days . These samskArAs are abandoned these days . These two are purificatory rites sanctioned by the VedAs for the proper growth of the fetus inside the womb of the mother . Therefore , these samskArAs should not be abandoned .

8.4. Jaatha karmaa

This is performed soon after the child's birth. The tongue of the newly -born is touched thrice with ghee to the accompaniment of appropriate Vedic manthrAs seeking protection and long life for the newly born .

8.5. Naamakaranaa

This fifth samskArA dals with the naming of the child on its eleventh day of its birth ( vide : PeriyAzhwAr's celebration of Sri KrishNA's NaamakaraNam in his Thirumozhi ) . There are strict rules in choosing the name for the newly born based on the constellation at the time of birth or the time of the day , when the child is born . As PeriyAzhwAr has instructed us , auspicious names associated with Sriman NaarAyaNA and MahA Lakshmi or great AchAryAs should be chosen for the baby with the lessons learned from AjaamiLOpAkhyANam .

8.6. Annapraasanam

This deals with the feeding of the baby for the first time with solid food at the age of six months . This samskArA is performed generally at the local temple .The parents recite manthrAs , while they feed the child . It is a beautiful sight to observe this ritual at GuruvAyoor temple .

8.7. Chudakarmaa

The last of the pre-upanayana samskArA is chuda Karmaa for a male child , when a tuft or sikhA is created . The sikhA is created with the samkalpA to the Lord and hence , should not be removed impulsively or with abandon . The purpose of the SikhA is to protect the most sensitive nerve center on the top of the head known as Brahma ranthram from any abnormal vibrations . SikhA will also qualify the BrahmachAri or celibiate for the prformance of Vedic rites such as SamidhAdhAnA or the offering of palaasa twigs to the fire as apart of the daily observance .

The householder has to ring his sikhA after his bath every day to offer sikhOdhakA or the water from his tuft to his pithrus or ancestors. Without the sikhA , no water from the tuft can be offered . In the Hindu way of life , only the sanyAsi has no sikhA , since he has to shave his hair at the time of his entering sanyAsAsramam . This is allowed for this asramamam , since the sanyAsi is free from the observance of offerings for his ancestors .

9. Upanayanam

A child normally starts schooling at the age of five. When it reaches the age of eight , it possesses a grip on the language and therefore is considered eligible for receiving Vedic Instruction . A sacred thread ceremony known as Upanayanam is performed by the father and the boy is blessed with the initiation into reciting the sacred Gayathri Manthram . Next , his Vedic instruction begins with the proper guru .

Upanayana means bringing one close to the guru or the teacher , who initiates the child into Veda vidyA . The boy learns one VedA with its limbs (angAs ) . It takes 12 years to complete the learning of one Veda with its angAs . The boy stays in the house of the guru and observes the ancient practise of gurukulA and performs services to the guru and his family in return for receiving his education . He also practises celibacy ( Brahmacharyam ) during these 12 years . Brahmacharya is the first of the four aasramAs for a Hindu . The recitation of the VedAs with swarAs (proper intonations ) from a qualified guru is the goal of thsi aasramA .

The BrahmachAri observes four addiitonal samskArAs during this period of receiving Vedic instruction . These four samskArAs are linked with the completion of each of the four khAndAs (sections ) of the individual VedA .

For instance , a celibiate receiving instruction in KrishNa Yajur VedA has to complete the four khAndAs of PrAjApathya , Soumya , AagnEya and VaisvadEva . During the completion of each of the four khAndhAs , the brahmachAri observes the samskArAs of each of the above four khAndAs . Similarly , Rg VedA has a set of four samskArAs known as MahAnAmni , MahAupanishad and two GodhAna vratAs that have to be performed by the student . Recent postings on UpAkarmA relate to the Khanda rishi tarpaNam connected with our thanks giving to the rishis of the khAndams .

At the conclusion of the samskArAs associated with the final khAndhA of the VedA , the bachelor is adjudged as having completed hisVedic instructions successfully . He offers his homage to his guru and returns home to perform a samskArA known as samAvartanA , which literally means return to home at the end of his studies . He takes a ritual bath called SnAnA and is thereafter he is known as SnAtakA , who has completed his gurukula vaasam .He goes on pilgrimage to Kaasi kshEthram and on return from that journey is ready for marriage or VivAham . He is now ready to enter into the second aasramam known as GrihasthA ( house-holder ) . From UpanayanA to VivaahA , we have thus witnessed seven samskArAs . After VivAhA , he is expected to observe BrahmacharyA for one year and thereafter , he is qualiifed to perform the samskArA of garbhAdhAnam associated with the conception of a child .

VivAhA for women is equivalent to the Upanayanam ceremony . After VivAham , she participates in all the Yaj~nAs with her husband as sahadharmachAriNi . Hence , VivAham is called SahadharmiNi SamprayOgam . It may be pointed out that both the VivAham and Upanayanam should be conducted during the UttarAyaNa puNya kaalam . I have covered the individual stages of Vedic VivAham in other postings connected with AanDAL's VaraNamAiyram earlier ..

10. Pancha MahA Yaj~nAs

We have so far covered 14 samskArAs for the period leading up to VivAham .In the married state , the householder has to observe five more samskArAs daily and they are known as the five great yaj~nAs ( pancha mahA yaj~nAs ) .The performance of these five samskArAs helps the householder to discharge his debts to DevAs , his ancestors and all living beings .

These pancha MahA Yaj~nAs are :

1. Brahma Yaj~nam , which is performed through the recitation of the VdAs and helps to discharge the debt to Vedic rishis or manthra drashtAs . They collected the Veda samhithAs through their spiritual powers .

2. Deva Yaj~nA, which requires the performance of pujAs and Yaj~nAs for Gods .

3. Pithru Yaj~nAs : The debt to one's ancestors is discharged through the offering of pindAs during the tarpaNAs as oblations.

4. Maanushya Yaj~nA : The athithi sathkAram or feeding of one's guest with respect , discharges one of his debts to the community .

5. BhUta Yaj~nA : This samskArA consists of feeding the living entities other than human beings . Offerings are made to them as they are an extended set of human family .

We have described 19 samskArAs so far .The remaining 21 fall into three distinct subsets : Paaka , Havir and sOma Yaj~nAs . There are a seven of each of the three subsets . Brief descriptions of these 21 yaj~nAs will be presented here. The various kalpa sUtrAs and GrihyAsUtrAs describe these Yaj~nAs in great detail .

11. Paaka Yaj~nAs

These are small yaj~nAs . The nams of these are : 1. sthAlipAkA 2. ashtakai 3. anvashtakai 4. paarvaNi srArdhA or sarpa bali 5. agrahAyaNi 6. Chaitri or EesAna bali and (7) aswayuji . Most of them are done at home in GrihyAgni , which is the Agni in which the husband and wife perform their daily OupAsanam . We will not go into the details on the performance of these yaj~nAs here.

The procedure for the paaka Yaj~nAs are described in Grihya sUtrAs belonging to Smrithis . Hence , these Paaka Yaj~nAs are referred to as SmArtha karmAs . These are thus distinct from Srautha karmAs ( Havir and sOma Yaj~nAs ) , since the latter derive their authority from Sruthis . It must be pointed out that the SmArtha and Srautha karmAs are equal in importance .

12. Havir Yaj~nAs

These are also seven in number and are a little more elaborate in performance than paaka yaj~nAs . Their names are : 1. Agni aadhAnA 2. AgnihOthrA 3. darsa pUrNa maasa 4. AgrAyANaa 5. ChaathurmAsyaa 6. NiruDa pasubhandha and (7) SouthrAmaNi .

These yaj~nAs are performed in SroudhAgni , which is also known as TrEtAgni . Aapasthampa sUtrAs in their trEthAgni khAndham (section ) give the details of construction of the Yaj~na kundAs and the maintenance of trEtAgnis or the three sroudhAgnis revered as gArhapathyam , dakshiNAgni and aahavaneeyam .

13. Soma Yaj~nAs

These are also seven in number . There are fewer hOmAs in these sOma Yaj~nAs , but more eulogies or sthuthis ( sAma ghAnam ) . SaamaVedidc recitation is central to these seven Yaj~nAs . Saama Vedam has been identified as " VedAnAm Saama vedOsmi " by GeethAchAryan . The four KhandAs of Saama Vedam ( AgnEya KhAnA , Aindra KhAndA , PaavamAna khAndhA and aaraNyaka KhandhA ) provide the sama riks or dashtis ( collection of ten verses ) for the following seven sOma Yaj~nAs :

The individual names of these seven Yaj~nAs are :

1. AgnishtOmA or JyOthishtOmA 2. AthyagnishtOmA 3. UkthyA 4. ShOdasi 5. VaajabhEyA 6. AthirAtrA and (7) abhthOryAmA

One who completes a sOma yaj~nA is hailed as a sOmayAji . Even if one can not do all of these seven Yaj~nAs , it has been recommended that atleast one of the seven ( agnishthOmA ) should be performed in one's life time .

14. SanyAsins

For sanyAsins , there are no samskArA of cremation . They are buried in BrindhAvanams by the riverside or enar a holy spot . A peepul sapling or TuLasi bush is planted over the site .

15. Conclusion

The importance of the samskArAs can not be underestimated in the Hindu sanAtana dharmA . They from the core of the Hindu life cycle rituals and guards the practioners from swerving into paths not sanctioned by the VedAs . They protect them from the time of conception to the last moment on this earth of our Lord . The samskArAs prescribed for the four successive/separate aasramAs can not be abandoned until one's last breath.Through the knowledge of these ancient samskArAs , it is our hope to incorporate them into our lives within the limits of our abilities and help others keep up the tradition with Sriman NaarAyaNA's krupA .

Credits: V.Sadagopan

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