samskara


samskara
In Hinduism, any of the personal sacraments traditionally observed at every stage of life, from the moment of conception to the scattering of one's funeral ashes.

The observance of the samskaras is based on custom and on such texts as the Puranas, and differs considerably according to region, caste, or family. The most generally accepted list of 16 traditional samskaras includes ceremonies for conception, a male birth, name-giving, the upanayana, and marriage. There is also a body of noncanonical samskaras performed by and for the benefit of women.

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▪ Hindu passage rite
      any of the personal sacraments (sacrament) traditionally observed at every stage of a Hindu's life, from the moment of conception to the final scattering of his funeral ashes. The observance of the saṃskāras is based on custom fully as much as on texts such as the Gṛhya-sūtras, the epics, or the Purāṇas and differs considerably according to region, caste, or family. The rites are usually performed by the father, in the home, and are the more carefully observed in the case of male children. The most generally accepted list of 16 traditional saṃskāras begins with the prenatal ceremonies of garbhādhāna (for conception); puṃsavana (to favour a male birth); and sīmantonnayana (“hair-parting,” to ensure safe delivery). The rites of childhood begin before the severing of the cord, with the ceremony of jātakarman (birth); followed at a later date by nāmakaraṇa (name-giving); niṣkramana (the child's first view of the Sun); annaprāśana (first feeding of solid food); cūḍākaraṇa (first tonsure of the boy's head); and karṇavedha (boring of the ears for the wearing of ornaments). The educational saṃskāras can commence as early as the fifth year with the vidyārambha (the learning of the alphabet). The upanayana (q.v.; initiation) confers the sacred thread on male children of the three upper social classes; the vedārambha signals the beginning of the student's study of the Vedas (sacred scriptures); the keśānta, or godāna (first shaving of the beard), marks the approach of manhood; and the samāvartana (returning home from the house of the guru) or snāna (“bathing”), the completion of his student life. The sacrament of marriage, the next stage in a man's life, is known as vivāha. The final saṃskāra to be performed for a man is the antyeṣṭi (q.v.), the funeral rite.

      In modern times the full saṃskāras are not generally performed, despite the efforts of the Arya Samaj, a late 19th-century reform movement that tried to revive their popularity. At present the ceremonies most commonly observed are those of initiation, marriage, and death.

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Universalium. 2010.

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