Postnatal Sanskara

Postnatal Sanskara

In Hinduism, the ancient Vedic Seers prescribed sacraments or rites of passage known as Samskaras as they believed that every aspect of life from conception to cremation was a significant stage and needed to be celebrated as a reminder that everything in life was a gift of God. The purpose of the samskaras was both cultural and spiritual. Instead of letting an individual grow in an arbitrary manner the seers and sages felt that there was a need for consciously moulding and guiding the personality of the individuals. This formation and development of personality could be brought about by the Samskaras. The human body was precious as it was considered the temple for the indweller Atma and hence the Samskaras were a form of Sadhana or spiritual endeavour whereby external disciplines were carried out for internal spiritual improvement. Thus they imparted a higher sanctity to the life of an individual. The Upanishads state that the final goal of these Samskaras was to cross the ocean of samsara and transcend the infinite cycles of life and death whereby the Atma attains the Paramatma. This was the lofty purpose for which the Samskaras originated. There are sixteen samskaras broadly classified into prenatal, postnatal, educational, marriage and death samskaras.

Stages of the Postnatal Samskaras

The various stages of the Postnatal Samskaras are-

1.   Jatakarma(birth rituals)

2.   Namakarana(giving name)

3.   Nishkarmana(first outing)

4.   Annaprasana(feeding solid food)

5.   Chudakarana or Chaul(shaving of the head)

6.   Karnavedha(piercing the earlobes)

1.   Jatakarma(birth rituals)

The birth of a child was a truly moving and awe inspiring experience for man and this Samskara originated from the need for Divine guidance to protect the mother and the new born from natural and supernatural forces of dangers.

Origin and History

The Vedas have hymns for safe delivery and prayers to protect the new born. The Grihasutras have detailed descriptions of this Samskara. A suitable room of the house was selected on an auspicious day and a day or two before the delivery the expectant mother entered after chanting of hymns for sanctifying the atmosphere and other rituals for a safe delivery and protection of the newborn from evil spirits. The Jatakarma ceremony was performed before the severing of the umbilical cord or at the end of the ceremonial impurity period of ten days after birth. Even though the birth of a male child was considered auspicious as it freed the father from all ancestral debts, the birth of a female child was also considered meritorious as her gift in marriage was said to heap merits on the family. The Jatakarma rituals involved the Medhjanana ceremony which offered prayers for the intelligence of the child, the Ayushya ceremony for long life of the child along with other rituals for strength and good character of the child. There were also rituals to praise the mother for being blessed to give birth to a child and to protect both of them from evil forces. The navel cord was severed and the child was given to the mother for the first feed. After the ceremonies, gifts and alms were given to Brahmins and others and the day of birth was considered highly auspicious and significant and joyously celebrated.

2.   Namakarana(giving name)

A name generally gives identity and individuality to an object, person or place and hence the ceremony to name a child was of great significance. A child was usually named after a God or a Saint whose name and power would then protect the child throughout life.

Origin and History

The Vedic and Brahmanic literature mentions the adoption of generally two names, one the popular name and the other derived from either of the parents. The Grihasutras discussed the composition of the name of a boy and girl and attached merits according to the number of syllables, namely for a boy one desirous of fame had two syllables, one desirous of holiness had four syllables etc. A girl had to be named with an uneven number of syllables and generally should contain a blessing and had to end with ‘a’ or ‘i’ (mostly vowels). The name also had to denote the social status of the person namely Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. The Hindu mind was deep rooted in caste and different castes had different surnames. Thus the future career of the child was determined by the birth in a family. In the Grihasutra period the name was generally the Nakshatra or the birth star name followed by the popular name. Since different constellations presided over different letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, the first letter of the child’s name began with one of the letters ruled by that particular constellation.  For eg the star Ashvini presided over the letters Chu- Che- Cho- La, hence the child born under this star could be named Ashvinikumar, Cholesa, Chudamani, Lakshmana etc according to different steps of the constellations. Most of the time the star name was kept secret and only the popular name was used. The child was also named based on the deity of the month in which the child was born or according to the family deity.  The popular name was generally based on the nature of the genders indicative of their natural disposition like a man was robust while a woman tender so names were accordingly formed. Parents who lost their previous issues gave the child awkward and repulsive names to frighten away evil and supernatural forces and to keep the child safe. The secret name was generally given on the day of birth while the popular name was given on the tenth or twelfth day after the birth of the child. This was the day of the Namakarana ceremony when the house was washed to remove impurities and the child and the mother bathed and various rituals and offerings were made. The father then leaned towards the right ear of the child and softly chanted his name into it. Then the ceremonies concluded with feasting and offering salutations to the priests and assembled personages.

3.   Nishkarmana(first outing)

After the naming ceremony as the child grew up it was felt to introduce him to the outside world. As this was not free from evil and supernatural influences the Gods were propitiated to protect him from them.

Origin and History

There is no special mention of this Samskara in the Vedic period. In the Grihasutras it was a very simple procedure where the father took the child out and made him look at the sun. Later Smritis and Nibandhas enumerated the rituals. This Samskara generally took place in the third or fourth month after the birth depending on the health of the child, the suitability of the weather and the convenience of the parents. The child was bathed and dressed and after the family deity was worshipped, the child was taken to a temple and with chanting of hymns etc the child was brought back home by his maternal uncle along with his parents and others and given presents, toys and blessings. The Brahmanas were fed and in some cases there was also a Raksha or protection ceremony performed.  The child was thus introduced to the sublime grandeur of the universe and emphasis was placed on the budding mind of the child to respect nature which was a creation of God which was the main aim of this Samskara.

4.   Annaprasana(feeding solid food)

The child’s main source of nourishment was the mother’s milk. As the body of the child developed it required different kinds of nutrition. Thus the weaning away of the child from the mother and the first solid feed were considered of great importance.

Origin and History

This Samskara is not clearly mentioned in the Vedas and Upanishads though praises of food have been found. This Samskara is clearly mentioned in the Sutra period which gives the time of performance of the ceremony, the types of food etc. The Grihasutras state that the ceremony was performed in the sixth month after the birth of the child. The types of food were mentioned and different kinds of food were said to give different qualities like rice with honey for long life, curd and rice for strong sense organs, rice with ghee for brilliance etc. On the day of the ceremony the food to be given was cooked with appropriate Vedic verses. The food not only implied the physical food but also all that the child would take in with all his senses. The rituals included prayers that all the senses of the child should be gratified and he should lead a happy and contented life. There were prayers that the food that he took in should give him clear vision and increase strength and improve holiness.

5.   Chudakarana or Chaul(Shaving of the head)

With the march of civilization man realised the necessity to keep the hair short and clean. Cutting the hair with an iron instrument was a new phenomenon for the people. To subject a small child to it was fearful to the parents and it was these sentiments that might have been responsible for the giving this ceremony a religious connotation.

Origin and History

The Vedas mention the tonsure of the head, wetting of the hair and the shaving razor being praised and requested to be harmless. The Grihasutras also mention these verses along with verses for invitation to the barber, cutting of the hair and prayers for long life and prosperity of the child. This ceremony took place at the end of the first year but before expiry of the third year.  The time of the ceremony was fixed after taking into consideration astrological and other factors. Hair cutting was never performed at night or during pregnancy of the mother. It could be done only outside the home or at the place of the family deity. The most important part was the arrangement of the Sikha or top hair. In the course of evolution keeping the top hair or tuft and wearing the sacred thread became the compulsory outward signs of the Hindus. After the child is bathed and dressed in new clothes the mother with the child on her lap sat down near the sacrificial fire. With various rituals the father then cut tufts requisite in the rituals and then the barber shorn off the rest of the hair. The main features of this ceremony included wetting the head, prayers for non injury while cutting, throwing away the severed hair with cow dung and keeping the top hair. The ceremony was connected with the long life of the child and a tuft of hair to protect the vital part of the head was felt to be necessary.

6.   Karnavedha(piercing of earlobes)

The piercing of the ears is famous in most of the civilizations for decorative purposes and the Hindus also performed it for health purposes along with beautification.

Origin and History

There is no clear mention of this procedure in the Vedas and Grihasutras though it is said to be mentioned with reference to marking the ears of cattle. The Katyayani Sutras and the Paddhatis later state that the ceremony was performed on the tenth, twelfth or sixteenth day after the birth of the child or in the third or fifth year of the child when boring would be easier for the child to bear and as it coincided with the Chudakarana ceremony both were sometimes performed at the same time. Often a goldsmith was invited to bore the ears and the needles to be used whether gold, silver or copper were described in the rituals. Sometimes discrimination on the type of needle was made on the basis of caste and economic means. On an auspicious day the child was seated facing the East and with sweetmeats and other distractions with toys etc, the boring of holes took place with chants and hymns in a careful manner. The Brahmins and the barber were then rewarded and the child was blessed by parents, relatives and friends.

Conclusion

The aim of the Samskaras was to create conditions for the integrated development of the human personality and a well structured society. They were a training ground for a higher type of spiritual and intellectual culture. Ritualism along with philosophy was reconciled so that along with sacrifices and rites, high metaphysical and spiritual questions were raised and discussed. Thus the Samskaras helped in the refinement of the human lives as they laid definite rules and regulations which led to stability and peace in the social fabric of the people and brought about a sense of structure in society.

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