Ayurveda advocates disciplined life to remain healthy. The life of a person can be happy (sukhayu), unhappy (dukhayu), wholesome (hitayu) or unwholesome (ahitayu) depending on the awareness and endeavour for what is good and what is bad for self. For personal and social upliftment certain actions are performed during specific transitional phases of life. These are called Samskaar ( Sacraments) and are sixteen in number, thus termed Shodash Samskaar or Sixteen Sacraments.
These are the methods of conditioning or purification of accumulated instincts and inculcation of virtuous disposition. The Shodash Samskaaras bestow a positive effect on the subtle levels of human consciousness and hence have an impact on the physical and mental attributes.
Classification: The Sixteen Samskaar can be classified into five categories:
1) Gaarbhika Samskaar(Related to pregnancy):
(These are done by the couple to become parents)
2)Shaishav Samskaar ( Related to child ):
(These are done by the parents for the child)
3)Shaikshnika Samskaar ( Related to education ) :
b)Veda Arambha Samskaar
(These are done by the teacher for the student)
4) Aashramika Samskaar
(Related to married life):
c) Sanyaas Samskaar
(These are done by the person for self)
5)Prayaan Samskaar( Related to death ):
(After death this is done by the child)
Let’s have an insight into the significance of the Sixteen Samskaaras.
1) GARBHADHAN SAMSKAAR: This is performed after marriage. It is the ground work for planning parenthood. It is a ritual for preparing husband and wife, physically and mentally, to beget a healthy progeny.
2) PUNSWANA SAMSKAAR:This is done before and after conception for fertilization and stability of pregnancy respectively. This strengthens the healthy development of gross (physical), subtle mental) and astral(conscious) body of child.
3)SEEMANTONNAYAN SAMSKAAR:This is done mainly in 4th month , can be done in 6th or 8th month of pregnancy. In this ceremony the pregnant lady is given gruel made with rice and lentils with ghee ( clarified butter ) to eat and encouraging words are whispered in her ears e.g your child is intelligent/healthy etc.
During 4th month, proper development of fetus begins. The heart also starts functioning. During this time period the pregnant lady is called ‘Dauhridini’ i.e having two hearts – one of the fetus and other of herself. The fetus becomes receptive and culminates it’s desires through mother. The development of brain and nervous system also starts.
The blessings and encouraging words create an atmosphere of assurance to the pregnant lady. She is advised to avoid factors that are harmful for the well being of fetus.
As the nutritional requirements of fetus and pregnant lady are increased, the rice gruel is given to eat as it is a complete and balanced food.
4)JAATKARMA SAMSKAAR: This is done immediately after birth.
The mouth of the child is cleaned with moist cotton swab . Anterior fontanelle (Brahma randhra) is covered with tampon soaked in ghrita or oil. Then umbilical cord is cut. Striking sound or mantras (hymns) are chanted softly in the child’s ears. Ghrita mixed with rock salt is given orally for clearing mucous.
With these procedures the child is relieved from the troubles caused by compression in the vaginal canal or instruments used at the time of delivery.
5)NAAMKARAN SAMSKAAR:This is performed on 10th day after birth or within a month. The name to be kept should have auspicious meaning e.g symbolizing progress or any great personality etc. By the 10th day child recovers from trauma, if any, during child birth and it is the appropriate time to examine the child properly.
6)NISHKRAMAN SAMSKAAR: This ceremony is done in 4th month after birth. The child is taken to a place of worship.
At birth, a newborn’s vision is immature, brain is not ready to process all the visual information. By 3 – 4 months, baby is able to move the eyes together and can track moving objects. They also start to gain depth perception and develop full color and distance vision.
At four months the baby reacts to sounds, smile on hearing familiar voice. Tries to reach objects with hands. Holds and let go of an object. Increased eye contact with parents and others. So, this is the period when all the motor and sense organs of the baby are becoming mature.
This samskaar is aimed at improving the health of the child and to inculcate the feeling of respect for the natural powers like sun, wind, moon etc.
7) ANNAPRAASHAN SAMSKAAR: This ceremony is performed in the 6th month after birth. In this ritual, solid food is administered for the first time with the aim of sowing seeds of purity in Annamaya kosha of the child . It increases the healthy growth and development of the baby. By six months, the digestive system is developed and teeth start appearing.
During this ceremony, Kheer ( a porridge made with milk and rice ) mixed with honey , ghee ( clarified butter), basil and water of Ganges river is given to eat in very small quantity . With this food, the traits indocrinated in the child are Kheer–health, Honey–sweetness, Ghee–congeniality, Basil–destroyer of diseases/evils, Water of Ganges river–purity. It teaches piousness of food.
8)CHUDAKARAN SAMSKAAR: Also called Mundan or Tonsure Ceremony.
This ceremony is performed at the age between 1 and 3 years. In this ritual head of the child is shaved, leaving a tuft of hair called Shikha or Chuda. Shikha signifies one pointed focus on spiritual goal and devotion to God.
The Chudakaran Samskaar aims at eradication of beastly tendencies and sowing seeds of cultural consciousness in the child. It is said that birth hair carries undesirable ideas and traits from past birth. So, they need to be removed and new ideas full of eminence should be grown in its place.
It also aids in examining the proper growth and development of head. During teething period , the child suffers from various diseases and the skull or Anterior Fontanelle is the indicator of status of child’s health. The sunken fontanelle indicates dehydration whereas bulging fontanelle indicates increased intracranial pressure. The Anterior Fontanelle closes at one and half to two years of age after birth.
The point on head where shikha is kept, is the vital spot (Marma) called Adhipati. Any injury to this part causes loss of consciousness, coma, injury to brain or sudden death. So, the shikha is a covering of the vital spot.
9)KARNAVEDHANA SAMSKAAR:In this ceremony ears are pierced.
This is done on the 10th or 12th day after birth or at 6th or 7th month. The ear should be pierced by the experienced person in proper light. After that medicated oil is applied for healing. This is aimed at developing immune response of the body to the external trauma.
A study has shown encouraging results with a visible improvement of immune status in children with Karnavedhana as compared to non Karnavedhana children. Improvement was seen in gastro intestinal system, respiratory system. Severity and duration of infection reduced to 75%. Immunity was triggered after Karnavedhana.
10) UPANAYANA SAMSKAAR: In this ceremony the child goes to the teacher . In ancient times, children stayed with the Guru( teacher ) in gurukul and attained education. The child is told to follow celibacy. It is a sort of second birth. The child gets the body of knowledge that is not destroyable contrary to his gross physical body.
11) VEDARAMBHA SAMSKAAR: It is performed at the age of four years. This samskaar marks the start of formal education.
12) SAMAAVARTAN SAMSKAAR: After attaining knowledge and following celibacy, when disciple attains adulthood, he is ready to enter the married life and returns to his parents home. As this samskaar is the stepping stone for entrance in Grihasta Ashrama (householder’s life ), a ceremonial bath is given to the passing out students.
13) VIVAAH SAMSKAAR:This is the foundation of all the samskaaras. It is also the essence of creation.
The aim of marriage is the confluence of feminine and masculine energy for the purpose of creation . Practising of virtues like sacrifice for each other, forgiveness, patience, satisfaction with each other during married life helps in the path of spirituality.
14) VAANPRASTHA SAMSKAAR: This samskaar represents the partial retreat from active life . This phase of life should be passed in the service of the nation , community and welfare of self through gaining and imparting knowledge.
As this stage is the onset of old age, degeneration of all vital elements in the body begin. So during this period the person should take care of his health and follow daily routine of oil massage, exercise, meditation, taking balanced and healthy food according to the digestive capacity, as it helps in maintaining health and slows down degeneration. Studies have shown that people with good moral habits live longer.
15) SANYAAS SAMSKAAR: During this stage of life, one prepares for total giving up of worldly pleasures and life as a preparation for leaving the mundane world.
16) ANTYESHTI SAMSKAAR:This is the ritual of cremation of mortal remains. It is the last sacrificial act of the person’s earthly existence.
Ayurveda emphasizes that Supraja i.e ‘healthy progeny’ is the foundation of progressive and healthy society and the Shodash Samskaar (Sixteen Sacraments) help in achieving the ultimate goal of physical and spiritual well being of a person.
Essentials of Pediatrics by Dr O.P.Ghai
An evaluation of Karnavedhana Samskaar as an immunostimulant by Rajani Pydi , Krishnaiah Namani
Dr Shriramkishorji Mishra – Aayushmaan magazine