Circle of life


With my spirit of inquiry mood in full swing and to continue the momentum, I started watching a Television show titled Upanishad Ganga. I urge every reader to watch this show. It is exceedingly aesthetic, very informative and engrossing. This episode titled ‘stages of life’ set me on a different train of thought. We, human beings were always insecure. We had this fear that the minute we are born, we get separated from God, the source. (My Spiritual guru says, Fear is our first samskara!) Our purity starts to get compromised from that very instant; probably that’s the reason why we made these 16 stages; purification steps from birth to death. The moment we are separated from the source till the time we re-merge with the source (hopefully, we are never sure) in the same pristine pure state.  


Trying to lift the veil over the 16 sanskaar (Sacraments of life); Garbhadhana (Conception) is the first one. Invocation by parents; a fervent prayer for a child to fulfil the obligation; procreation regarded as imperative for paying off debts to forefathers.  It’s funny, is it not; we do not want to leave the world without leaving a little bit of ourselves! So, we yearn for an offspring, we prefer a male child; only a boy has permission to light the pyre! The beginning itself is with a desire.


 Second samskara is Punsavana (Fetus protection); performed during the third or fourth month of pregnancy when the moon is in a male constellation, particularly the Tishya-nakshatra. This symbolises a male child (like I said; a male child is always the first choice). A priest recites Vedic hymns to invoke divine qualities in the child.


This is followed by the third samskara; Simantonayan (literally meaning hair-parting. Shrimantham is the more popular known term now; baby shower is the term used in the western world).


The significance of this samskara is to bring prosperity to the mother (satiate all her cravings and keep her smiling and happy) and long life to the unborn child. It also wards off evil influence.


Then comes the child birth; our fourth samskara, namely Jatakarma. These rituals are performed at the birth of the child. It is believed that the moon has a special effect on the newly born. In addition, the constellation of the planets – nakshatras – also determine the degree of auspiciousness. If birth occurs during an inauspicious arrangement, the jatakarmas are performed to ward off their detrimental effects on the child.


Namkaran (Naming ceremony) is the fifth samskara.  Based on the time of birth of the baby, an astrological chart is drawn and the child is named on a day fixed by caste tradition. As per Hindu religious tradition the child is usually named after a deity, holy place or a saint as a constant reminder of the sacred values that name stands for.


Nishkrama (First outing); after the first 90 days the baby is allowed to step out. Which marks the sixth samskara. The first outing of the baby is usually to a temple, holy place accompanied by the father or elders in the family.


Annaprashan (First feeding with solid food) is the next sanskara and marks a very important occasion. This is usually the 5th month or after the child crosses the 6th month. This ceremony also indicates that the baby is ready to be weaned away from the mother.


 Mundan is the eighth samskara and the last samskara before the baby turns one. This is performed during the first or third year of age when the child’s hair is removed by shaving, again in some holy place, after seeking an auspicious date and time. 


Karnavedha (Ear piercing) is the ninth samskara and is performed in the third or fifth year. This ceremony was practiced for both, boys and girls. The essence of this ceremony was to enable the child to listen to what is good, have the courage to leave or let go of baseless information.


The tenth samskara is Upanayanam; the Sacred thread ceremony. Interestingly, this ceremony used to be performed for all varnas (castes). Another interesting change that has come to light that girls also were introduced in this ceremony. Now, it is only the male child and the Brahmin caste which performs this ritual with great fanfare! This ceremony introduces the male child to a teacher to receive education and marking the entry of the child to Brahmacharya.


 Vedarambha or the Study of Vedas is the eleventh stage and this is performed at the time of Upanayana or within one year. The Guru teaches the Gayatri Mantra. In the olden (Golden) days the child used to be sent to Gurukul and spend the coming decade or so under his tutelage.


 Samavartana is the twelveth stage which marks the returning home of the child after completion of education. By this time the child is an adult, about 25years of age and which gives the natural progression to our next samskara; vivaha.


 After upanaynam marriage is the next big event and the child (now an adult) is ready for the grihastha ashram. Marriage enables the person to achieve the four endeavours of life (purusharths) Dharma (righteousness), Artha (wealth), Kama (desire) and moksha (salvation). The whole cycle of this child, now an adult will have the chance to pay off ancestral debt; procreate. The real test of life is said to begin in this stage.


Completion of duties the couple is ready or needs to prepare for renunciation; vanaprastha the fourteenth samskara. This samskara is performed at the age of 50 to celebrate the departure from the householder stage to the Vanaprastha stage when the person begins to engage in spiritual activities. This graduates to sannyasa, our fifteenth samskara, and is performed after the vanaprsatha stage.


 After completing all the worldly responsibilities, the couple hand over the reins and live a life engaging in spiritual practices. This brings us to the closure, the sixteenth samskara, antyesthi or cremation. This samskara is performed after death by his or her descendants.


These 16 stages are a purification process; we knew all along that the minute He separates us from Himself we are at a severe risk of never ever making it back with the same purity. Thus, from birth to death; beginning to the finish line it is a preparation, to go back whence we came from, the full circle of life.



Ganga Upnishad, Chinmaya Mission

Hindu rites and rituals