Hindu Celebrations | Sacraments
As days follow days in orderly succession, as seasons faithfully succeed one another, so shape the lives of these, O Supporter, that the younger may not forsake his elder.
Rig Veda 10.18.5. ve, 609
What Are Hinduism’s Rites of Passage?
Hindus celebrate life’s crucial junctures by holy sacraments, or rites of passage, called saṁskāras, which impress the subconscious mind, inspire family and community sharing and invoke the Gods’ blessings. Aum.
For the Hindu, life is a sacred journey in which each milestone, marking major biological and emotional stages, is consecrated through sacred ceremony. Family and friends draw near, lending support, advice and encouragement.
Through Vedic rites and mantras, family members or priests invoke the Gods for blessings and protection during important turning points, praying for the individual’s spiritual and social development.
There are many sacraments, from the rite of conception to the funeral ceremony. Each one, properly observed, empowers spiritual life and preserves Hindu culture, as the soul consciously accepts each succeeding discovery and duty in the order of God’s creation.
The essential saṁskāras are the rites of conception, the three-month blessing, hair-parting, birth, name-giving, head-shaving, first feeding, ear-piercing, first learning, puberty, marriage, elders’ vows and last rites.
The holy Vedas proclaim:
“From Him come hymns, songs and sacrificial formulas, initiations, sacrifices, rites and all offerings. From Him come the year, the sacrificer and the worlds in which the Moon shines forth, and the Sun.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
What Are the Sacraments of Childhood?
The essential religious sacraments of childhood are the nāmakaraṇa, name-giving; chūḍākaraṇa, head-shaving; annaprāśana, first solid food; karṇavedha, ear-piercing; and vidyārambha, commencement of formal study. Aum.
Saṁskāras impress upon a child its holiness and innate possibilities for spiritual advancement.
The nāmakaraṇa occurs in the temple or home, eleven to forty-one days after birth. The baby’s name, astrologically chosen, is whispered in the right ear by the father, marking the formal entry into Hinduism.
The head-shaving, chūḍākaraṇa, is performed at the temple between the thirty-first day and the fourth year.
The annaprāśana celebrates the child’s first solid food, when sweet rice is fed to the baby by the father or the family guru.
Ear-piercing, karṇavedha, held for both girls and boys during the first, third or fifth year, endows the spirit of health and wealth. Girls are adorned with gold earrings, bangles and anklets; boys with two earrings and other gold jewelry.
The vidyārambha begins formal education, when children write their first letter in a tray of rice. The Upanayana begins, and the samāvartana ends, a youth’s religious study.
The Vedas beseech:
“I bend to our cause at this solemn moment, O Gods, your divine and holy attention. May a thousand streams gush forth from this offering, like milk from a bountiful, pasture-fed cow.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
What Are the Sacraments of Adulthood?
The most important sacrament of adulthood is the Vivāhaḥ saṁskāra, or marriage rite, preceded by a pledge of betrothal. A boy’s or girl’s coming of age is also consecrated through special ceremony in the home. Aum.
As puberty dawns, the ṛitu kāla home-ceremony acknowledges a girl’s first menses, and the keśānta kāla celebrates a boy’s first beard-shaving.
New clothing and jewelry fit for royalty are presented to and worn by the youth, who is joyously welcomed into the young adult community. Girls receive their first sārī, boys their first razor. Chastity is vowed until marriage.
The next sacrament is the betrothal ceremony, called niśchitārtha or vāgdāna, in which a man and woman are declared formally engaged by their parents with the exchange of jewelry and other gifts. Based on this commitment, they and their families begin planning a shared future.
In the marriage sacrament, or Vivāhaḥ, seven steps before God and Gods and tying the wedding pendant consecrate the union of husband and wife. This sacrament is performed before the homa fire in a wedding hall or temple and is occasioned by elaborate celebration.
The Grihya Sūtras pronounce:
“One step for strength, two steps for vitality, three steps for prosperity, four steps for happiness, five steps for cattle, six steps for seasons, seven steps for friendship. To me be devoted.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
What Are the Child-Bearing Sacraments?
The essential child-bearing saṁskāras are the garbhā- dhāna, rite of conception; the punsavana, third-month blessing; the sīmantonnaya, hair-parting ceremony; and the jātakarma, welcoming the new-born child. Aum.
Conception, pregnancy’s crucial stages and birth itself are all sanctified through sacred ceremonies performed privately by the husband.
In the rite of conception, garbha dhāna, physical union is consecrated through prayer, mantra and invocation with the conscious purpose of bringing a high soul into physical birth.
At the first stirring of life in the womb, in the rite called punsavana, special prayers are intoned for the protection and safe development of child and mother.
Between the fourth and seventh months, in the sīmantonnaya, or hair- parting sacrament, the husband lovingly combs his wife’s hair, whispers sweet words praising her beauty and offers gifts of jewelry to express his affection and support.
Through the jātakarma saṁskāra, the father welcomes the new-born child into the world, feeding it a taste of honey and clarified butter and praying for its long life, intelligence and well-being.
The Vedas proclaim:
“That in which the prayers, the songs and formulas are fixed firm like spokes in the hub of a cartwheel, in which are interwoven the hearts of all beings—may that spirit be graciously disposed toward me!” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
Are There Rites for the Wisdom Years?
Entrance into the elder advisor stage at age 48, the marriage renewal at age 60, and the dawn of renunciation at 72 may be signified by ceremony. Funeral rites, antyeshṭi, solemnize the transition called death. Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
Hindu society values and protects its senior members, honoring their experience and heeding their wise advice.
Age 48 marks the entrance into the Vānaprastha āśrama, celebrated in some communities by special ceremony.
At age 60, husband and wife reaffirm marriage vows in a sacred ablution ceremony called shashṭyābda pūrti.
Age 72 marks the advent of withdrawal from society, the sannyāsa āśrama, sometimes ritually acknowledged but never confused with sannyāsa dīkṣā.
The antyeshṭi, or funeral ceremony, is a home sacrament performed by the family, assisted by a priest.
Rites include guiding the individual’s transition into the higher planes, preparing the body, cremation, bone-gathering, dispersal of ashes, home purification and commemorative ceremonies, śraddhā, one week, one month and one year from the day of death, and sometimes longer, according to local custom.
Through the antyeshṭi, the soul is released to the holy feet of Śiva.
The Vedas counsel:
“Attain your prime; then welcome old age, striving by turns in the contest of life. May the Ordainer, maker of good things, be pleased to grant you length of days.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
When a man is born, whoever he may be, there is born simultaneously a debt to the Gods, to the sages, to the ancestors and to men.
When he performs sacrifice it is the debt to the Gods which is concerned. It is on their behalf, therefore, that he is taking action when he sacrifices or makes an oblation.
And when he recites the Vedas it is the debt to the sages which is concerned. It is on their behalf, therefore, that he is taking action, for it is said of one who has recited the Vedas that he is the guardian of the treasure store of the sages.
And when he desires offspring, it is the debt to the ancestors which is concerned. It is on their behalf, therefore, that he is taking action, so that their offspring may continue without interruption.
And when he entertains guests, it is the debt to man which is concerned. It is on their behalf, therefore, that he is taking action if he entertains guests and gives them food and drink.
The man who does all these things has performed a true work; he has obtained all, conquered all.
Śukla Yajur Veda, Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 184.108.40.206-5. ve, 393
With holy rites prescribed by the Veda must the ceremony on conception and other sacraments be performed for twice-born men, which sanctify the body and purify in this life and after death.
Manu Dharma Śastras 2.26. lm, 33
Let the father perform or cause to be performed the nāmadheya, the rite of naming the child, on the tenth or twelfth day after birth, or on a lucky lunar day, in a lucky muhūrta under an auspicious constellation.
The names of women should be easy to pronounce, not imply anything dreadful, possess a plain meaning, be pleasing and auspicious, end in long vowels and contain a word of benediction.
Manu Dharma Śastras 2.30; 33. lm, 35
When the son is one year old, the chūḍākaraṇa, the tonsure of his head, should be performed, or before the lapse of the third year.
When he is sixteen years old, the keśānta, the shaving of his beard, is to be done, or according as it is considered auspicious by all.
Pāraskara Gṛiyha Sūtra 2.1.1-4. gs, vol. 29, 301
Life universal shall guard and surround you. May Pūshan protect and precede you on the way! May Savitri, the God, to that place lead you where go and dwell the doers of good deeds!
Rig Veda 10.17.4. ve, 608
I take thy hand in mine for happy fortune that thou may reach old age with me, thy husband. “This woman, strewing grains, prays thus: ‘May I bring bliss to my relations. May my husband live long. Svāhā!’”
Rig Veda 10.85.36. rvg, vol. 2, 544 & Śānkhāyana Gṛiyha Sūtra 1.14.1. sb, vol. 29, p. 37
That the father and mother give birth to him from mutual desire, so that he is born from the womb; let this be known as his physical birth.
But that birth which is given, according to the ordinance, through the Savitri, by the preceptor who has mastered the Vedas, that is the true birth, the unaging and immortal.
Manu Dharma Śastras 2.147-8. sd, 156
After completing the life of a student, let a man become a householder. After completing the life of a householder, let him become a forest dweller, let him renounce all things.
Or he may renounce all things directly from the student state or from the householder’s state, as well as from that of the forest dweller.
Śukla Yajur Veda, Jābāla Upaniṣad 4. ve, 440
Having reached the last order of life, one should sit in a solitary place in a relaxed posture, with pure heart, with head, neck and body straight, controlling all the sense organs, having bowed with devotion to the master.
Atharva Veda, Kaivalya Upanishad 5. ve, 442
Having studied the Vedas in accordance with the rule, having begat sons according to the sacred law and having offered sacrifices according to his ability, he may direct his mind to final liberation.
Manu Dharma Śastras 6.36. lm, 205
Knowingly or even unknowingly, intentionally or even unintentionally, a mortal, having gone to death in the Ganga, obtains heaven and moksha.
Pādma Purāṇa, Sṛishṭi, 60.65. he, 105
The boy grows to youth and youth as surely to old age decays. But time’s changes teach them not that nothing abides. He pervades this Earth and the space beyond. I long for His feet and desire there to remain.
Tirumantiram 181. tm