Why Consecration or Sanskaras?
In the same way as cotton is processed to make a dress, so also a Hindu undergoes many consecrations at each stage in life for removal of impurities and seek blessings from the gods.
The Hindus believe that each individual requires protection, consecration and refinement. For this, they depend upon god, as well as their knowledge of the natural world. Sanskaras, therefore, are a mixture of religious and secular aspects. Each Sanskaras was to be performed at a certain time in the life of a man, in a certain manner, and required specific components. The main items for the performance of Sanskaras are
Spiritual atmosphere: A pre-requisite for any Sanskaras. The person for whom the ceremony is being performed and others involved should think of god and of the duties and responsibilities that will be part of their life after the ceremony. They should be in the correct frame of mind to understand and appreciate the solemnity of the ritual.
Prayers, Appeals and Blessings: Prayers and appeals are made and blessings sought of both the gods and elders.
Agni: The fire is the protector and messenger between men and gods.
Lustration: Due of its constant motion and sound, and its power, water was believed to be a living force. In addition, many lakes, rivers, and other water bodies have healing powers, which made water even more mystic.
Sacrifice: Born of the natural human impulse to thank Nature or a Supreme Creator, domestic yagyas evolved as gestures of thanksgiving.
Orientation: The east is associated with light, warmth, life and happiness because the sun rises in the east. The west is associated with darkness and cold because the sun sets there; the south with Yama because he is believed to come from the south; the north is not malevolent but irrelevant in this respect. For an auspicious Sanskar, the individual faces eastwards.
Stigmas: These sprang from the fear of things going awry during sensitive and difficult times, like pregnancy, marriage and death. 'Safeguard' taboos hence appeared, which rigid beliefs over time became. For example, for 10 days after the birth of a child, the home is considered impure). This belief developed out of the need to confine the mother and child in a room to protect them from infection in the days before chemical antiseptics and disinfectants. However, now the practice has a religious sanction and is rigidly followed, especially in rural areas.
Cultural elements: There are certain rules about ethics, hygiene, and other social customs to be observed when performing Sanskaras, like purifying the site before the ceremony begins. This means a thorough cleansing and sometimes performing Havan.
The 16 CONSECRATIONS
GARBHADHANAM PUNSAVANAM SIMANTO JATAKARMA CHA| NAMAKRIYA NISHKRAMANO ANNA PRASHAN VEDAGYAKRIYA, KARNVEDYO VRATADESHO VEDARAMBH KRINYA VIDHIH, KESHANTO SNANMUOVAHO VIVAHAGNIPARIGRAHA, JETAGNI SANGRA SHCHETI SANSKARAH SHODASHSMRITAH.
1. Garbhadana. All sources recognize this as the first Sanskar. It consists of rites performed before conception in the belief that it ensures a healthy child. This is performed by husband. The Atman stays 55 days inside the father and 270 days inside mother before birth.
2. Punsavana is the second Sanskar and it is performed during the third or the fourth month of pregnancy. The significance of this Sanskar is to invoke divine and good qualities in the child.
3. Simantonayana or parting of wife's hair by husband also purifies the fetus: This ceremony is performed by the husband for the wife to protect her from evil spirits and from ill health during the pregnancy. This Sanskar is performed during the seventh month of pregnancy and prayers are offered for the healthy physical and mental growth of the child. The other importance of this Sanskar is to free the expectant mother free from worries since the last 3 months are sometimes difficult for pregnant woman. On the day of this Sanskar, the expectant mother gets food of her desire. Only women are invited for this ritual and the gathering is kept small
4. Jatakarma This Sanskar is performed at the birth of a child as a welcome sign to the new born child into the family. Priests chant Mantras for a healthy, long life of the child. During this Sanskar, the father feeds honey to the baby and pierces the baby's ear.
5. Namkaran. This Sanskar is performed on the tenth, eleventh or twelfth day after birth, with recitation of Mantras. The baby child gets name on completion of this Sanskar. The first male child is usually named after his paternal grandfather, the second male child after maternal grandfather. The first female child is usually named after paternal grandmother and the second female child after maternal grandmother. The rest of the children carry names of uncles, aunts, gods and goddesses. While Dhoons and Kirtans are sung, whisper name of the child in its right ear.
6. Karnavedha or piercing the ear. This Sanskar is performed in the firth or the seventh year or at the end of the first year with Chudkaram Sanskar.
7. Nishkarma Sanskar is performed when the child is taken out of the home for the first time. S/he is taken to the temple first time. The reason for this Sanskar is to show obedience to the sun, moon, fire, water and wind - the Panchmahabhut. In Nishkramana Sanskar, the child is shown to the Sun which is the source of life on earth. With this, life and prosperity increases.
8. Annaprasana. This Sanskar is performed on sixth month , when the child gets solid food for the first time. Mantras recited and oblations are offered to the various deities.
9. Chudkaram Sanskar is shaving the head of child. This is done in first or third year of the child. The body of the child is protected and harmonized by this ceremony.
10. Upanayana or thread ceremony.The word Upanayana means bringing near. The child is bought near to the Guru. This Sanskar is second birth for child – a spiritual birth, and is performed during 5th, 7th or 9th year of child. With Upanayana the body comes in the DWIJA (twice born)class, and gains the right to study the Vedas.
11. Vedarambha or the beginning of Vedic study, performed during the Brahmacharya stage of life at the home of the guru. This Sanskar is done along with Upanayana. The wearing of the Sacred thread entitles the child to study the Vedas and participate in Vedic functions. The child is sent to Gurukul. (guru Monastery).
12. Smavartan Sanskar is performed before entering the grahstha ashram or the life of a householder. This is performed at the end of child’s study in Gurukul. The student takes the permission of his guru before entering the grahstha ashram. Snana or bathing constitutes an important part of this ceremony, symbolizing the crossing of the ocean of learning. Therefore the Sanskar itself is often referred to as Snana.
13. Vivaha. This Sanskar is entry into the second Ashram. The life as individual family begins. Entering this stage of life, man has to take on his duties and has to pay spiritual debts by sacrifice , by procreating children and study. The bride and groom walk around Agni hand in hand 7 rounds.
14. This is the life of a Vana prastha , householder withdraw themselves from all worldly activities, retires into the forest or Ashrams and prepares himself for taking sanyas..
15. A sanyasi renounces the world and leads a life of study and meditation by living on alms.
16. Antyeshti. At the moment of death, a small piece of gold, tulsi leaf and drops of Ganga water are put in the mouth of the person on the death bed. The body is laid on the ground with the head towards the North. The eldest son generally performs the last rites before which he takes a purificatory bath amidst the chanting of mantras. The dead body is washed, perfumed and wrapped in a new white cloth and decked with flowers. For ten days following death, food is not prepared at home and relatives and friends take the responsibility of getting food for the family.
These religious ceremonies are believed to sanctify the mind, body and intellect of the individual so that he can become a more complete member of the community. They provide a spiritual aspect to the important events in a person's life, from birth till death.