Samskaras Origin and Significance

Childhood Samskaras

1. The Jatakarma (birth ceremonies) – The birth of a child was a very impressing scene for early man. Owing to its wonderfulness, he attributed this event to some superhuman agency. He realizes the dangers during birth, helplessness of the mother and the newborn. Thus the man wanted to ensure that the child was born free of any problems. The primitive wonder, supernatural wonder and natural care were, in course of time, combined with the cultural devices and aspirations to protect the mother and child.

The ceremonies and their significance are

a) Medh-janana ceremony or the production of intelligence – The ceremony was performed when the father with his fourth finger and an instrument of gold gave to the child honey and ghee or ghee alone. The formula employed was, Bhuh I put into thee: Bhuvah I put into thee, Svah I put into thee, Bhur buvah I put everything into thee. This ceremony speaks of the high concern of the Hindus about the intellectual well being of their child. The child was fed stuff that was conducive to his growth. According to Susruta, ghee has the following properties “It is a producer of beauty, is greasy and sweet, removes hysteria, headache, epilepsy, fever, indigestion, increases digestion, memory, intellect, lustre, semen, talent and life”.

b) Ayusya – is the rite for ensuring long life of the child? The magical ceremony was performed to strengthen the breadth of the child and prolong its life.

c) Strength – The father performed a rite for the hardy, martial and pure life of the child. He asked the babe, “Be a stone, be an axe, be an imperishable gold. Thou indeed art the self called son, thus live a hundred autumn”. After this the mother was praised for bearing a son. Then the naval-cord was severed and the child washed and given the breasts of the mother. The father put down a pot of water near the head of the mother since the waters were supposed to ward off the demons.

2. Namkarna (name giving) – Early in life, the Hindus realized the importance of naming a person and converted the system into a naming ceremony. Brhaspati said “Name is the primary means of social intercourse, it brings about merits and is root of fortune. From name man attains fame. Therefore, naming ceremony is very praiseworthy”. According to the Grhyasautras, this ceremony was performed on the tenth or the 12th day after the birth of the child. But later options range from the 10th day up to the first day of the second year. At the expiry of impurity caused by birth, the house was washed and purified and the child, mother bathed. After performing the preliminary rites, the mother covering the head of the child with pure cloth wetted its hand with water and handed the baby over to the father. After this offerings were made to the Gods. In consultations with the Brahmans the child’s name was established. They also recited the verse “Though art Veda”. The name for greeting was given last.

3. Niskaramana (first outing) – Every important step in the progressive life of the child was a festive occasion for the parents and family, and was celebrated with appropriate religious ceremonies. The child earlier lived only in one part of the house and its innocent eyes were exposed only to the people around it. But within some time the universe of the child was to be expanded. So there was felt a need to introduce it to the outside world. However, life outside the house was not free from natural and supernatural dangers. Therefore, for the protection of the child, gods were worshipped and help was sought. The procedure given in the Grhyasutras is simple. The father took the child out and made it look at the sun with the verse, “That eye”.The time for performing the S varied from the 12th day after birth to the 4th month. The general rule, however, was that the S took place in the 3rd or 4th month after birth.

The significance of the whole ceremony lay in the physical necessity of the child and impressing on it the sublime grandeur of the universe. The S implied that after a certain period of the time the child must be taken out in fresh hair and from there the practice should be continued. It also emphasized on the budding mind of the child that this universe is a sublime creation of God and should be duly respected.

4.Annaprasana (first feeding) – Medically speaking a child is not able to digest food for the first four to six months says my doctor mother. So breast- feeding is essential initially. Feeding the child with solid food was the next important stage in the life of the child. After six to seven months, the child’s body was developed and required greater amount, different type of food so for the benefit of the child it was important to wean away the child from breast feeding to solid food. Thus this S was connected with the satisfaction of the physical need of the child. Endorsed by Susruta, who prescribes the weaning of a child in the sixth month and describes the type of food given. It was only later that this system of feeding the child assumed a religious shape. Food, the source of energy was to be infused into the child with the help of Gods.

According to the Grhyasutras the ceremony was performed in the sixth month after birth. Other Smritis too are of the same opinion. Laugaksi says when the teeth come out so that a child can eat solid food. Doctor mom says that child’s teeth come around month six. The prayer was offered so that all the senses of the child are gratified so that he may live a happy and content life. But it was kept in mind that search for gratification should not violate the rules of health and morality because it would spoil the fame of man. In the end the father set apart foods of all kinds and flavors for feeding the child and fed it silently or with the syllable “Hant” (well). The ceremony terminated with the feasting of the Brahmans.

The significance of Annaprasana was this that children were weaned away from their mothers at proper time. It was a reminder to the mother the time had come for the child to have solid food as well as for her to realize that she needs to conserve her energy. Using all her energies to feed the child is of not beneficial to the child or the mother either.

5.Chudakarana (tonsure) – It was after a long time that man came to realize the necessity of keeping short hair for health and beauty. Ringworms were a great trouble to primitive people. To keep the head clean some device was bound to be invented. Cutting the hair was meant to meet this end. Being novel, it was regarded as an important event. Chopping of hair by means of an iron instrument was a new and exciting one. People knew its benefits but were scared that it would injure a person. Necessity and fear gave rise to the ceremony. The sharp razor coming in contact with the child scared the father who requested that the razor be mild and harmless to it.

The purpose of the S as prescribed in the scripture was the achievement of the long life of the recipient. “Life is prolonged by tonsure, without it, shortened. Therefore, it should be supported by all means”. According to Susruta, “shaving and cutting of hair and nails removes impurities, gives delight, lightness, prosperity, courage and happiness”. Charaka opines, “Cutting and dressing of hair, beard, nails gave strength, vigor, vitality, life, purity and beauty”.

Chudakarana was a religious ceremony as early as the Vedic period, consisting of wetting the hair, prayer to the razor, invitation to the barber, cutting the hair with Vedic verses and wishes for long life, prosperity, valor and even progeny of the child.

In the opinion of the Grhyasutras, the ceremony took place at the end of the first year or before the expiry of the third year. Manu too prescribes the same. Performed in 3rd year it is considered the best by the learned, in the 6th or 7th year it is ordinary but in the 10th or 11th year it is worst.

The arrangement of the top-hair or Sikha was the most important feature of the Chudakarna and made according to family tradition. The descendants of Vasistha keep only one tuff in the middle of the head, of Atri and Kashyapa two on either sides, of Bhrigu remain without a tuff, of Angiras five. Later on one tuft became universal in northern India, probability, due to its simplicity and decency, though in Deccan and South, the ancient traditions are kept alive to an extent.

The following main features of the ceremonies can be distinguished. The first is the moistening of the head. The second is the cutting of the hair with prayers for non-injury of the child. The third is throwing away the severed hair with cow-dung. Hair is regarded as part of the body and was subject to magic and spell by enemies. The fourth is keeping of top-hair. It was a racial fashion and helped distinguish families.

Most importantly the ceremony was for the child’s long life. Is there any connectivity between life and the top-hair? Says Susruta “Inside the head near the top, is the joint of a Sira (artery) and Sandhi (a critical juncture). There is the eddy of hairs is the vital spot called Adhipati (overlord). Any injury to that part causes sudden death”. The protection of this vital part was considered necessary, hence the tuff of hairs.

6.Karnavedha (boring the years) – Boring of limbs for wearing ornaments is common
among savage peoples all over the world. Its origin is ancient. In the case of boring ears, it was ornamental in origin, but later on proved to be useful and was given a religious coloring for emphasizing its necessity. Susruta says “Ears of a child should be bored for protection (from diseases in his opinion) and decoration”. He explicitly prescribes the boring of years for preventing of hydrocele and hernia. Thus, it is a precaution taken in early life so that the chances of the above diseases may me minimized later.

The ceremony was performed on the 10th, 12th or 16th day after the birth according to Brhaspati. Different learned men have prescribed different days. Susruta prefers the 6th or 7th month taking physical facility into consideration. Susruta says a surgeon should pierce
Ears while Sripati, a medieval writer says it should be the goldsmith.

The ceremony per say is simple. On an auspicious day the ceremony was performed in the first half of the day. The child was seated facing the east and given some sweets. Then the right ear was bored with the verse; “May we hear auspicious things through ears”. Susruta gives a very cautious procedure to the ceremony. After boring oil should be applied to the ears by means of a cotton thread or bougie.

The later writers introduced religious elements into the ceremony. On the day of performance Kesava (lord Vishnu), Hara (siva), Brahma, the sun, the moon, deities of quarters, nasatyas, Saraswati, the Brahmans and cows are worshipped. A nurse brought the child with its wars painted with red powder. The ears were pierced lightly.

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