Saturday, April 19, 2014

An overview of the 42 samskaras – article by R.Ramanathan

{This article is a sequel to an article posted more than a year ago. That article titled "How difficult is the life of a Brahmana!" was written by our regular reader and Vedic Scholar, Mr R. Ramanathan. Responding to the request of a reader Mr Murali (smk), Mr Ramanathan has taken time out his busy and dual schedule as an IT professional and a Vedic learner & teacher, and has written this article. The article is not complete and will be continued. My sincere thanks to Mr Ramanathan for his contribution}

A list of the 42 samskaras is given in the website   

Note this list is not always constant and there are differences in the samskaras listed. For example I see that the a samskara called the “Karna Vedanam”-‘Piercing of the ear and adornment with gold earrings”, which is mentioned in the Yajnavalkya smriti is not found in the above list. Also this list seems to be oriented towards the taittriya yajur veda shaka. The persons who follows Jaiminya sama veda shaaka who are found in and around thogaiyur(near Trichy) follow some more samskaras. We will stick to the above list for the purposes of elucidation. Note that I will not be discussing the procedures followed in each samskara but the significance of each, with respect to “Brahmaniyaa” and how they are corrupted today.


This is the laying of the seed in the womens womb and is the first samskara.  This is usually after vivaaha “marriage”. Here what I mean by marriage is the 4 day dharma shastraic marriage and not the current 2 day extravaganza happening now. Will discuss more one this in the vivaaha samskara. This samskara in today’s terminology is called “Shanti muhurtam”. Note thus the samskara for a brahmana child happens even before birth of the child. So, there is no question whether “Braahmaniya” is by birth or not.  It starts from birth alone. This samskara ensure “Kshetra shuddi” “Purification of the field” for the female. Just as brahmacharya results in bija shudda for the male.


This karma is performed to pray for a male child. This has been discussed in detail in the apastamba.


This is the parting of female hair with a porcupine claw. This is done during pregnancy usually during the 4 or 5th month. It is also performed during 8th months. Currently seemanthonayana is performed for the 1st child as per Apastamba.


This is performed when the placenta is cut from the child. This has to be performed at the hospital directly. Though it never happens practically.


Naming ceremony. This name is later used in “Abhivadana” of the male child when introduced into Vedic school.


First outing of the child outside of the house after birth.


First food in-take (Solid food)

First hair-cut. This depends on sampradaya. This karma results in the kudumi or tuft. Depending on one’s sampradaya one can have a poorvashika (Tuft in front like the thilla deekshitas and namboodris), or normal tuft worn by majority south Indian Brahmins. Note, the tuft is important for all the future karmas to be done. The present practice of having a crop and doing adhyayana and other vaidika karmas is to be condemned in no uncertain terms. Also note even the basic daily bath (Snana) that is performed without a shika is not valid. Since after bath, one has to give “shika-udakam”. i.e. give the residual water of the shika with a chant of mantras to pitrus.  Note this is to be done by everyone, brahmacharis or grihastas, whether father alive or not. If this is not performed, the bath is not considered purificatory and one is not eligible for even sandhyavandana. Also the shika is to be let loose during rites to pitrus and tied closely during other times. Performed in the 3rd year of a male child.


Sacred thread ceremony. This is a very well-known samskara where the brahmachari is instructed in the savitri mantra and begins his study of his vedic shaaka under a competent acharya in the gurukula along with proper vratas.  Upanayana samskara as per Apastamba and the Ekagani kandain the Taittriya yajur veda, is a very simple samskara and if performed strictly as per shastra should not cost more than Rs75,000/- . Not many of the costly items used like a silk dhoti, jari “poonals” etc are specified in the shastras.  Even the pancha patra given for a brahmachari is supposed to be made of wood or coconut. Nowadays there seems to be no difference in the performance of marriages and upanayana. Many people seem to conduct a reception on the evening of the upanayana at 6.00pm, the most important time for evening sandhyavandana and samidhadhana. Where can the brahmachari perform it? Rather he is asked to wear a “Sherwani”, when ideally he should be adorned with a dhoti and deerskin and made to sit on the stage and asked to shake his hands with his father’s office colleagues who wish him “Happy upanayana” without understanding the purpose.

The biggest atrocities are from the photographers, who tell when an act is to be performed and from videographers who tell when the mantras are to be started and how much should be told. Also they enter the ceremonial area with their socks on their foot which is disgusting. What is supposed to be a private ceremony is made into an extravaganza of sorts filled with complete anaachara. But unfortunately no one including the purohit tells the brahmachari to perform his sandhya and do his adhyayana and what constitutes aachara and so on.

One event adiyeen saw which I want to mention, as it would be relevant here. Adiyeen went with his family to Vaitheeswaran koil near Mayiladuthurai last year, as it is my family deity. We were put up in Kanchi Shankara mutt.  On the day we came there was a upanayanam going on. We went on with our temple visits and came back to our room around 12.00 in the afternoon. Adiyeen came out of the room and went to the well, to draw water for performing Maadhyahnika and brahma yajna, when adiyeen overheard a conversation between the boy who had this upanayanam and his father.  The boy asked his father whether he too do need to do madhyahnika. The father replied “No only Vaathyars (priest in tamil) do maadhyahnika and people like us who got to school and read well do not need to”. Adiyeen was too stunned for words. In fact the first karma the newly initiated brahmachari gets to do after upanayana is madhyahnika as the ceremony would cross over to noon. This is how Brahmin parents are today and it’s really pathetic.


The 4 Veda vratas listed in the site above 1. Praajapatya 2. Sowmya 3. Agneeya 4. Vaishwadeva pertain to the corresponding portions of the Taittriya Krishna yajur veda (TKY hereafter). When the brahmachari learns each portion he has to take up each vrata one by one and learn it. Sadly this is not followed even in paatashalas now. Other vedic shaakas may have their own vratas during study.  The 5th portion of the TKY called the Aruna involves the TKY Aaranyaka and is involved with forest hermits.

These are the vratas that are performed now during marriage in an abridged manner. Though, adiyeen questions the need for such a thing. If a person does not do adhyayana of a single line in the TKY what’s the need to do all these things during the marriage as done now?. This is just a farce.


This literally means bringing the brahmachari to equality with the world. As the period of brahmacharya involves strenuous tapas (Not just intellectual study) along with study, the brahmachari is said to attain brahmavarchas or luster pertaining to vedic study. If the boy after completing the course of study chooses to marry, the samavartana is performed for him. All the paraphernalia associated with the brahmacharya ashrama like the bhiksa paatra, Krishna ajina,dhanda, the munji belt, and the kaupina are given up in this ceremony. After the samavartana ceremony the brahmachari becomes a snataka brahmana and has 2 yajnopavitas. He is now an eligible bachelor. Now since all these years (10 or 12) he was studying in the paatashala and did not have worldly knowledge he is asked to undertake a yaatra to kashi so that he gains worldly knowledge. He can ask for a girl from a qualified family. During marriage the 3rd yajnopavita is worn indicating entry into grihastashrama. If one understands the sankalpa for the yajnopavita dharana vidhi all this is told there.

The kashi yatra mentioned above is again one of the farces performed in the marriage ceremony today. What has to be done after brahmacharya but prior to marriage is done during the marriage.


This is the dharmic marriage done for 4 days as per the shruti and dharma shastras.  This is one of the most corrupted samskaras today. The biggest lie in weddings performed nowadays is that the purohit (or boy) asks the girl if she can see the Arundati naksharta during the afternoon. Usually weddings are conducted in Tamil Nadu during the summer time frame, when the sun is blazing in the sky. It is not possible to look at the sun. How on earth can anybody see anything!!!. But when I asked the question to the purohita he said that if he asked this question he would be out of business!!!. Actually the star sighting is done on the night of the 2nd day.  Also I mentioned the kashi yaatra farce in the previous section.

When people think of 4 day weddings they immediately think that money is a waste. But they do not bother for one moment on the amount of money being spent on the farce that is called reception (having no dharmic value). I attended a reception in chennai once and saw that 15 varieties of dosa were being served.  Also the reception is conducted nowadays before the wedding which is adharmic.

I had the fortune of attending a 4 day wedding performed strictly according to the shruti and the ceremony was simple. The wedding was performed at home and the person told me that the wedding expense for all 4 days put together was not more than 2lacs. There were no 10 course reception meals.  No pointless quarrels for coffee as happen in Tamil Brahmin weddings.  No Ambattiooru (51 in tamil) mysore paaku or murkku as a seeru. Also there were no quarrels associated with it like one mysore paaku was missing and so on.  It was a simple dharmic ceremony were the purohitas were all ghanapatis and kramapatis as my friend himself is a dvi vedi (he knows the yajus and samans). The vivahaa was performed as per the ekagni kaanda of the KTY. And he had his aupasana agni. Also the shanti muhurtam happened only after the sheesha homa was performed. No kattu sadha koodai or jaanavasm farces.  The couple did not bath for 4 days and drank milk only for 3 times a day for 4 days.

Note that tying of taali is not mentioned as part of the shruti or dharma shastras and is part of kula aachara or family tradition. A dharmic marriage is affected if the ceremonies, till the saptapadi is performed. Even for legal registration this is sufficient. The famous mangala sutra mantra “Mangalyam thantunanee” is not part of any vedic shaaka and comes in the purana(Vayu purana??). So tying of taali may or may not be done in a dharmic marriage and is done solely for social purposes.
Note the rest of the samskaras like performing yajnas depend on a proper marriage.  And if one does not have it than he is ineligible to perform any agni based rite.


The last rites. This in strict technical sense is applicable only for a person who undergoes all the samskaras properly, has a proper vedic adhyayana. Thus for persons not doing these thing it has to be called dahana and not antyeshti.

These are the major 16 samskaras.  The others are yajnas to be performed as a householder. The rest to be continued in the next article…


Anonymous said...

Add email subscription widget

jayasree said...

It is already there. Check the sidebar.

sri5 said...

Good article on various samskaras...

Badari Narayanan V T said...

Rajaji felt that half a day should be earmarked for traditional vocation and the rest half for school. There were vociferous protests that he was seeking to continue the caste system. Today, many a traditions are on the brink of extinction thanks to our own lack of respect for our culture. It would be good if an hour and a half is utilised for traditional learning and the rest of the day for formal schooling. But personally, I am against caste based denial of knowledge. Shi Ramanujacharya was willing to take anyone in his fold after offering them the sacred thread

Vasundhara Venkatasubramanian said...

When is the right time to perform Upanayanam? Many people are saying it is between 6 and 7years after birth. Our son has completed 8 years now. So, should it be between 8 and 9 OR after he completes 9 years. I have referred to Kanchi periyaval's site and it seems it is 7 years + 2 months.

Now, for our son the next available one seems to be after he completes 9 years. But there is lot of confusion as people around us are all performing between 8 and 9. Or, between 10-11. Please clarify.