Samskaras Origin and Significance

Educational Samskaras

1.Vidyarambha (learning of alphabets) – When the child was prepared to receive education, the S was performed to mark its beginning, and alphabets, were taught. It is more cultural than natural and evolved at a high stage of civilization, when alphabets were evolved and utilized for writing purposes. It marks the commencement of primary education. The ceremony was performed in the fifth year or the seventh but surely before the Upanayana ceremony.

When the sun was in the northern hemisphere, an auspicious day was fixed for performing the S. The child was required to bathe, be scented and decorated. Then Vinayaka, Sarasvati, family goddess and Brhaspati were worshipped. Narayana, Lakhsmi, one’s own Veda were paid respects. Homa was offered. The teacher faces the east, the child the west. The phrase “Salutation to Ganesha, Salutation to Sarasvati, salutation to family gods and goddesses and salutation to Narayana and Laksmi”. After this “Om namah Siddhaya or salutation to Siddha”. Then the child worshipped the teacher, and the latter made the child read thrice what was written. The child presented clothes to the teacher, made three circumambulations round the gods and seeked everyone’s blessings.

2. Upanayana (initiation) – Ceremonies performed in connection with the arrival of youth are universally prevalent. The object is to prepare young men for entering on the active duties of citizenship. The ceremony arose out of the civil needs of the community but later on got a religious coloring, as every function needed religious sanction for its validity. The initiation was a passport to the literary treasures of the Hindus. It was also a means of communion with the society, without which none could marry an Aryan girl. Thus the Hindus made universal education the indispensable test and insignia of their community. By virtue of this ceremony the initiated was ranked as Twice born. The ceremony compares with the Christian ceremony of baptism. The Parsis call it Navjot.

By the end of the Upanishad period (1500 to 600 BC), the theory of the four ashramas seems to have become established and student’s life or Brahmacharya became a respected institution. This indicates that ancient Hindus attached great importance to education. Is this the reason why we Hindus take to education so naturally? A recent study in the UK found that Indians did far better in their exams than the Pakis or the Bangaldeshis.

Meaning of the word Upanayana has undergone changes over time. In the Atharveda it meant taking charge of a student. Here it meant the initiation of a child by a teacher into sacred lore. Later it meant to mean a physical act by which the student was taken to the teacher. It has lost its educational sense altogether today. In this sense it is called Janeoo, that is, a ceremony in which a boy is invested with the Sacred Thread. The three threads indicate responsibility towards their Rishis, Pita i.e. father and God. From the rishis he gets knowledge, from his pita birth and by helping others he must free himself of his responsibility towards God. It also means that the Rishi would develop the physical, mental and spiritual power of his student. When the child is entering the gurukul, school the ceremony was performed.
The purpose of Upanayana has changed. Ordinary education was the main purpose of the ritual. It was not only the first initiation of a boy but at the beginning of every branch of the Veda, the ceremony was performed. In its latest development the ceremony has become a religious achievement bereft of any educational intention. Since it was now a means of secondary education, the ceremony was performed between the 8th and 12th year.

The ceremony was not compulsory till the end of the Upanishadic period i.e. about 600 BC. The reasons are many. For any civilization to progress education is essential. Also the literature available had increased. Different branches of learning had evolved. In order to preserve the sacred literature the services of the entire community were taken by making the ceremony compulsory. There was a religious factor since it was believed to have possesses sanctifying power. The value of anything that becomes compulsory suffers. Upanayana ceremony was no different. During the Muslim period the ceremony lost importance but from the 19th century gained in importance.

3.Vedarambha (beginning of the Vedic study) – The S appeared late in the Samskaras, Vyasa mentions it for the first time. With time the number of people going in for Vedic study declined but respect for tradition required that there should be atleast one S that could take the place of the Vedic vows and mark the beginning of Vedic study.

4.Kesanta or shaving of beard – It is a S by which consecrated the first shaving of student’s beard. It was called Godana also, because it characterized by the gift of a cow to the teacher and gifts to the barber. The S was performed at the age of 16 and marked the arrival of youth when the student had grown up. Subsequent to the Muslim invasion when Hindu religion suffered and early marriage became common, Kesanta began to be considered as marking the end of the Brahmacharya.

5.Samavartana (end of studentship) – This marked the end of student life. It also means returning home from the house of the guru. It was called Snana because bathing formed the most important of the S. A student had two choices after this, he could get married, live the life of a householder or live a detached life. In the beginning the ceremony was like a modern convocation function. Rules got relaxed with time. Later on when the Upanayana lost its educational significance, the original purpose of this S was lost and it became a license for marriage. Before a student took his bath, he had to ask the permission of his master to end his student career and satisfy with guru daksina or tuition fees.

A survey of the ceremony shows how high was the respect in which scholars, who had completed their education, were held by society in ancient India. At present the ceremony is reduced to an absurd simplicity. It is performed with the Upanayana or Vivaha and the only remains of the detailed bath procedure are the bath and the decoration of the person, that too without proper Vedic Mantras.

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