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 again two types -
yogyatā ca sarvatra dviprakārā doṣāpanayanena guṇāntaropajanane ca bhavati
- Fitness attained by the removal of taints (sins).
- Fitness attained by generation of new qualities.
For example, saṃskāras such as upanayana makes a person eligible for Vedic study. And saṃskāras such as Jātakarma removes the taint that may have been generated by seed and uterus.
The word 'saṃskāra' is formed from the verbal root - 'kṛ', with the prefix 'sam', 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 saṃskāras are like the colors in a painting. Colors in a painting make the painting gradually beautiful and complete. In the same way saṃskāras refine a person peripherally and internally i.e. in the seen and un-seen arena.
“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 (burnt oblations) are performed during pregnancy and by ceremonies such as jātakarma etc. Similar purpose is stated even by yākjnavakya. In vīramitrodaya Mitramiśra divides the saṃskāras into two categories based on their purposes. One type acquires the fitness to study vedas such as Upanayana. And the other does only 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 foetus 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 foetus 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 one attains purity.
Classification of Saṃskāras
dvividhaḥ saṃskāro bhavati brāhmo daivaśca.......salokatāṃ sāyujyaṃ gacchati
Hārīta divided Saṃskāras into two -
The saṃskāras of garbhādhāna etc. which are described only in the smṛtis 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 the 21 yajnas attain equality with devas and stay in the same world and eventually become one among them.
Number of Saṃskāras
According to Gautama there are 48 saṃskāras. They are:
- 4 Vedavratas
- Brāmhaṇa yajnas
- 7 Pākayajnas
- 7 Haviryajna saṃsthas
- 7 Sōma saṃsthas
- 8 Ātma guṇas
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 as 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.
- Jaimini Sutra 3-1-3, p.no. 660
- tantravārtika, Jaimini Sutra - 3-8-9, p.no.1115
- Angīra smṛti, smṛti muktāphalaṃ, p.no. 72
- sa ca dvividhaḥ| ekastāvat karmāntarādhikāre anukūlaḥ yathā upanayanajanyaḥ vedādhyayanadyadhikārāpādakaḥ| aparaḥ utpannaduritamātranāśakaḥ yathā bījagarbhasamudbhavainonibarhaṇo jātakarmādi| vīramitrodaya-Vol2-p.no.132
- garbhādhāna, puṃsavana, Sīmantonnayana, jātakarma, nāmakaraṇa, annaprāśana, chūḍākaraṇa and samāvartana
- saṃskartattva,p.no. 857
- samskāraprakāśa, p.135
- Gautama dharma sutra 8|14-24, smṛti muktāphalaṃ,p.no. 73
- They are dayā-kṣānti-anasūyā-śauchaṃ-anāyāsa-mangalaṃ-akārpanyam-aspṛhā.
- 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