The word saṃskāra generally means 'act of purification'. Śabara, commentator of Jaimini Sutras, explains:
Samskāro nāma sa bhavati yasimn jāte padārtho bhavati yogyaḥ kasyachidarthasya
Saṃskāra is a means through which one person/object is considered to be fit for certain purpose. Fitness is classified into two sections as below:
Yogyatā ca sarvatra dviprakārā doṣāpanayanena guṇāntaropajanane ca bhavati
- Fitness attained by the removal of taints.
- Fitness attained by generation of new qualities.
For example, saṃskāras such as upanayana makes a person eligible for Vedic studies. Saṃskāras such as Jātakarma removes the taint that may have been generated by the seed and uterus.
The word 'saṃskāra' is formed from the verbal root 'kṛ', with the prefix 'saṃ' and suffix 'ghay'. In the present context, it means 'a sacred or sanctifying ceremony', i.e. The rituals which are meant for refining the body and soul. Angira, a sage, define saṃskāras to be the colors in a painting. Coloring a painting makes the painting gradually more beautiful and complete. In the same way, saṃskāras refine a person peripherally and internally i.e. all the seen and unseen aspects of a human being.
“Chitrakarma yathānekai raṃgairunmīlyate śanaiḥ| Brāmhhaṇyamapi tadvatsyāt saṃskārairvidhipūrvakaiḥ||”
Purpose of Saṃskāras
The purpose of saṃskāras according to Manu, in the case of dvijatis i.e. brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya and vaiśya, is to get rid of the taints acquired due to seed and uterus derived from the parents. In order to achieve this, homas are performed during pregnancy and by ceremonies such as jātakarma etc. Similar purpose is stated even by the sage Yākjnavalkya. In Vīramitrodaya, Mitramiśra divides the saṃskāras into two categories based on their purposes as follows:
- People who acquire the fitness to study vedas by performing ceremonies such as Upanayana.
- People who serve the purpose of getting rid of the taint of seed and uterus, such as Jātakarma.
Hārīta as qouted in Samskāratattva says that 'when a person has intercourse according to the procedure of garbhādhāna, he establishes a fetus in the wife that becomes fit for reception of Veda. By performing the rite puṃsavana he ensures that the child is male. By performing Sīmantonnayana he removes the taints derived by the fetus from the parents. These taints are five in number and are said to be accumulated from seed, blood and womb. These five taints are removed by jātakarma, nāmakaraṇa, annaprāśana, chūḍākaraṇa and samāvartana respectively. By these eight procedures, one attains purity.
Limitations of Saṃskāras
The Mitākṣarī, commentary on Yājnavalkya smṛti states -
bījagarbha śukraśoṇitasambaddham gātravyādhisankrantinimittam va na tu patitotpannatvādi
Thus it is clarified that the saṃskāras are confined to the purpose of removal of bodily defects transmitted through seed, sperm, blood and diseases etc. and are not intended to remove the taint of being born to 'patita' parents.
Classification of Saṃskāras
Dvividhaḥ saṃskāro bhavati brāhmo daivaśca.......salokatāṃ sāyujyaṃ gacchati
Hārīta divided Saṃskāras into two sections:
The saṃskāras of garbhādhāna are described only in the smṛtis. They are called brāhma. 7 pākayajnas, 7 haviryajnas and 7 somasaṃsthas are called daiva. People who are purified by brāhma saṃskaras attain equality with sages and stay in the same world and eventually become one among them. People who perform 21 yajnas attain equality with devas and stay in the same world eventually becoming one among them.
Number of Saṃskāras
According to Gautama there are 48 saṃskāras. They are:
- 4 Vedavratas
- Brāmhaṇa yajnas
- 20-26 7(seven) Pākayajnas - Aṣṭaka, Pārvaṇa, Śrāddha, Śrāvaṇī, Āgrahāyaṇī, Chaitrī, Āśviyujinī
- 27-33 7(seven) Haviryajna saṃsthas - Agnyādheyaṃ, Agnihotraṃ, Darśapūrṇamāsau, Āgrayaṇaṃ, Chāturmāsyas, Nirūḍhapaśubandha, Sautrāmaṇī
- 34-40 7(seven) sōma saṃsthas - Agniṣṭoma, Atyagniṣṭoma, Ukthya, Ṣoḍaṣī, Vajapeya, Atirātra, Aptoryāma
- 41-48 'Dayā, kṣāntiḥ, anasūyā, śauchaṃ, anāyāsaḥ, mangalaṃ, akārpaṇyaṃ, aspṛhā' 8 (eight) Ātma guṇās
But popularly the first fourteen of the above saṃskāras are performed in the present times. Deva-pitṛ-manuṣya-bhūta-brāmhaṇa yajnas, 7 Pākayajnas, 7 Haviryajna saṃsthas, 7 sōma saṃsthas are rarely performed that too by selective people. 8 Ātma guṇas are normally imparted by the moral stories in sanātana culture. Antyēṣṭi is also another ritual considered to be saṃskāra. Antyēṣṭi is the saṃskāra which is performed after one's death to dispose the body which the soul left. The primary purpose of these 48 saṃskāras is Mokṣa But Gautama says it in a different manner:
Yasyaitē chatvārimśat saṃskārā na cāṣṭāvātmaguṇā na sa brahmaṇaḥ sāyujyaṃ sālōkuaṃ ca gacchati|
One who does not get refined himself with these 48 saṃskāras, is not permitted to the sāyujyaṃ and sālōkuaṃ of the bramhan. This means that he does not attain Mokṣa.
Saṃskāras to Śūdras
According to Baijavāpa gṛhyasutras seven saṃskāras viz. niṣeka, puṃsavana, sīmantonnayana, jātakarma, nāmakaraṇa, annaprāśana, chaulaṃ are prescribed to śudrās. These saṃskāras are said to be performed without the usage of mantras.
baijāvāpa gṛhyepi| śūdrasyāpi niṣeka-puṃsavana-sīmantonnayana-jātakarma-nāmakaraṇa-annaprāśana-chaulānyamantrakāṇi yathākulamupadiṣṭānīti|
According to Aparārka, commentator of Yājnavalkya smṛti, eight saṃskāras from Garbhādhāna to chaula (Garbhādhāna, puṃsavana, sīmantonnayana, jātakarma, niṣeka, nāmakaraṇa, annaprāśana, Chaula) are to be performed by śūdras also -
etacca cāturvarṇyabhiprāyaṃ na dvijātimātraṃ|
The Śūdrakṛtyatattva quotes a verse from varāhapurāṇa regarding the process of performing saṃskārās to śūdras -
ayameva vidhiḥ proktaḥ śūdrāṇam mantravarjitaḥ| amantrastu śūdrasya mantro vipreṇa gṛhyate||
The very procedure performed by traivarṇikas is to followed by śūdras minus the mantras. In present context 'amantra' means veda mantras are not to be used while performing saṃskāras. Purāṇa mantras are to be used to perform saṃskāras.
Present Situation of Saṃskāras
It is to be noted that in modern times most of the Saṃskāras except upanayana, vivāha and garbhādhāna have fallen into oblivion and are rarely performed by few people who are well versed in sanatana subjects. Owing to the rapid rise of in the marriageable age of girls, even saṃskāra of garbhādhāna is not performed properly. Nāmakaraṇa, annaprāśana are performed in a popular way but without vedic mantras or without calling a priest to officiate. In most cases chaula is performed on the day of upanayana and samāvartana few day after upanayana or before vivāha.
- Jaimini Sutra 3-1-3, p.no. 660
- Tantravārtika, Jaimini Sutra - 3-8-9, p.no.1115
- It refers to the sins.
- It refers to Ovum here.
- Angīra smṛti, smṛti muktāphalaṃ, p.no. 72
- It means burnt oblations.
- Sa ca dvividhaḥ| Ekastāvat karmāntarādhikāre anukūlaḥ yathā upanayanajanyaḥ vedādhyayanadyadhikārāpādakaḥ| Aparaḥ utpannaduritamātranāśakaḥ yathā bījagarbhasamudbhavainonibarhaṇo jātakarmādi| Vīramitrodaya-Vol 2-p.no.132
- Garbhādhāna, Puṃsavana, Sīmantonnayana, Jātakarma, Nāmakaraṇa, Annaprāśana, Chūḍākaraṇa and Samāvartana
- Saṃskartattva,p.no. 857
- mitākṣarī on yājnavalkya smṛti-1-13
- Samskāraprakāśa, p.135
- Gautama dharma sutra 8|14-24, smṛti muktāphalaṃ,p.no. 73
- It is the final emancipation, the deliverance of the soul from recurring births or transmigration.
- Gautama dharma sutra 8|25, smṛti muktāphalaṃ,p.no. 73
- as quoted in Vīramitrodaya, p.no.133 (Baijavāpa gṛhyasutras are not available. But citations are available in works such as Vīramitrodaya
- vīramitrodaya, p.no.133
- Aparārka on Yājnavalkya smṛti - 1-11-12
- śūdrakṛtyatattva, p.no.634