Conclusion of the Samskaras: Life Till Death

JaneSmith105

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Life a Mystery and an art
Life has been a great mystery to man. Its origin, growth, decadence and disappearance have always exercised his thoughts and emotions. The Hindu Samskaras were just an attempt to fathom and to facilitate the flow of this mystery. Through observations and experiences and through faltering and confidence of ages the ancient Hindus realised that life was an art like any other art in the world. It required cultivation and refinement. Man born and left to himself was a mass of elements, crude and brutal and slightly removed from his fellow citizens of the forest. His life stood in need of as much care, protection and cultivation as a plant in a garden, crops in a field and an animal in a cattle farm. The Samskaras involved consciou efforts to meet this need. The seers and the sages of yore, to their light and resources, tried to transform crude animality into refined humanity.

Life a Cycle
As in philosophy so in rituals life was regarded as a cycle. It starts where it ends. From birth to death it is continuous series of incidents moving round a nucleus of desire to live, to enjoy, to think and ultimately to retire. All the Samskaras and their ceremonies emanate from the centre of life and are concurrent with its circumference. The Ghyasutras, the oldest manuals of the Samskaras start with the Vivaha (marriage Ceremonies), because marriage was supposed to be the centre of life which supports and sustains all social activities. The Smritis, however, begin with the conception of a child in the womb of its mother, as, obviously, the life of an individual germinates here and they end with the Antyesti (Funeral Ceremonies), which apparently mark the end of an individual life. Between births and deaths like life, the Samskaras revolve.

Dogma a Conscious Development
In the beginning, the Samskaras, though not automatic, were spontaneous. There was no dogma and there was no code. Precedent was the only authority; the question of rationale did not arise. When in course of time the various ceremonies connected with the Samskaras developed and they were amplified according to the social sentiments and needs, a conscious attempt was made at the codification of the Samskaras, and dogmas were fixed. This provided for the stability of the institutional aspect of the Samskaras, but it hindered its spontaneous growth which resulted in its stultification and decay.

The Procedure of the Samskaras
The forms and procedure of the Samskaras were suggested by ovservation and reasoning. Even in early times there were elaborate and distinct procedures of the Samskaras. Their precise origin is lost in the depth of antiquity but it is certain that they originated in social needs and in course of time they assumed a religious garb. Symbols and taboos played an important part in the procedural development of the Samskaras.

The place of the Samskaras in Hinduism
Samskaras took Life as a whole
In the beginning of civilizations life was much simpler than it is at present and it was not divided into compartments. Social institutions, beliefs, sentiments, arts, sciences etc. were all closely interwoven. The Samskaras covered all these fields of life. Religion was all embracing factor in ancient times and rituals were giving sanctity and stability to all possible incidents in life, and to this end, they are utilising all the moral and material resources of the world to which man had an access. This aim of the Samskaras was to create conditions for the development of an integrated personality of an individual, who can adjust himself with the world around him believed to be full of human and superhuman forces.

Samskaras and the Three Paths of Life
When in course of time the complexities of life increased and distinctions in action came to be made, the Hindus recognized three definite paths of life – 1) Karma marga (the Path of Action), 2)Upasana marga (the Path of Meditation and Worship), 3)Jnana marga (the Path of Knowledge). Though the samskaras were sufficiently comprehensive in their scope originally, they came to be included, later on, in the Path of Action (Karma marga) alone. The first path of life was a preparatory step to the second and the third ones, meant for the purification of mind (Chitta shuddhi). Therefore though the samskaras were not of the highest importance in life, they were of the primary importance and thus essential for every individual. As a matter of fact they provided a necessary training for a higher type of culture intellectual and spiritual.

Philosophical Indifference and Hostility towards the samskaras and their reconciliation with philosophy
Indian philosophical attitude towards life centred round the idea that temporal life, in its last analysis, is futile and that a permanent state of consciousness transcending the earthly existence is to be reached. The samskaras which blessed the Mundane affairs of life were looked down upon by retiring aspirants after the transcendental values of life. Some of the upanisadic thinkers derided all sacrifices, including the samskaras, and compared them with frail boats unfit for crossing the ocean or mortality. But the classical Hindu mind, being synthetic and taking a balanced view of life, was able to reconcile ritualism with philosophy and under the same sacrificial canopy, side by side with most elaborate sacrifices, the highest metaphysical questions were raised and discussed. The Charvakas (Materialists), the Buddhists and the Jains (Heterodox religions) attacked rituals in vain. The Charvakas, having no rituals and dogmas to rest upon, died out. The Buddhist and the Jain churches developed their own rituals, leaving their laity to follow the popular rituals current in the society. The Brahmanical thinkers never tried to discard them, perhaps, thinking that people could not live without some kind of ceremonies; the samskaras, being the best of them. Received their approval.

Samskaras and Puranic Hinduism
The development of Puranic Hinduism synchronized with the decline of the Vedic religion and the gravity of religious life shifted from home – the venue of the samskaras – to the places of pilgimage and the temples. The emphasis was laid on the idol worship. But though the big sacrifice fell into disuse, the samskaras survived with the change that some of them, eg., the Tonsure and the Upanayana, in some cases, came to be performed at a temple instead of at home. The samskaras were so closely associated with the personal life of an individual that they clung to him or her through all changes and vicissitudes. Their hold on life was so strong that even some of the deities had to undergo some of these samskaras.

 

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The Achievements of the Samskaras
The samskaras helped in the refinement and purification of human life, facilitated the development of personality, imparted sanctity and importance to human body, blessed all material and spiritual aspirations of man and ultimately prepared him for an easy and happy exit from this world of complexities and problems. They also helped in the solution of the many social problems of importance. For example, the Garbhadhana (Conception) and other pre-natal samskaras were connected with sex hygiene and eugenics. When the latter had not developed as independent branches of science, the samskaras were the only educative agencies in these matters. Similarly, the Vidyarambha (Learning of Alphabets) and the samskaras beginning from the Upanayana (Initiation) to the Samavartana (Returning Home from the Teacher’s) are all of highly educational importance. In early societies there was no secular agency to enforce compulsory education upon the masses. The samskaras, being compulsory, served this purpose. Every child, if he was not mentally and physically invalid, was to undergo a compulsary course of education involving learning and strict discipline. This maintained the intellectual and cultural level of the ancient Hindus. The Vivaha samskara (Marriage) regulated a number of sexual and social roblems by laying down definite rules on the types and forms of marriage, the limitations of marriage, the selection of parties and the nupitals. No doubt, these rules tended to make society static but they also added to the stability and happiness of social groups and family life. The last samskara, the Antyesti (Funerals) combined the duties of a house holder towards the dead and the living. It was wonderful combination of family and social hygiene and consolation for the survivors. Thus, the samskaras operated in the practical life as a graduated scheme of human life and its development.

The Decline of the Samskaras
Like other socio-religious institutions the samskaras also, after serving their purpose for a long time, declined in course of time due to their internal weaknesses and external circumstances, which developed in the history of the Hindus. The creative stage of the samskaras was followed by the critical, conservative and imitative ones, when the samskaras were codified, commented upon, compiled and confusedly and poorly imitated. The result was that they became static and stultified and lost their power of elasticity and adaptation. tHe time and ideology under which they evolved were left far behind and new social and religious forces were operating in the society, which did not fully conform to old social and religious institutions. Buddhism, Jainism and the many new cults of devotion diverted the attention of the people from ritualistic exactitude to devotional practices of worship. The linguistic difficulty was also responsible for the decline of the samskaras. The Mantras recited in the samskaras were from the Vedas and the procedure of the samskaras was couched in archaic Sanskrit and the both have continued to be so till today. Though Sanskrit has ceased to be the popular language of India and is intelligible to only a few learned persons, the priests have never cared to change the language of the sanskaras, as they are always anxious to preserve the mystic and obscure nature of the religious ceremonies. The natural consequence is the apathy and indifference of the masses towards the samskara, which have become a sealed book to them.

A far-reaching cause of the decline of the samskaras was the development of the society from its primitive conditions and the bifurcation and specialisation of the different branches of human activities. Originally the samskaras combine religious beliefs and practices, social customs and laws, educational schemes, rules regarding health and hygiene etc. In course of time all these aspects of human life developed more or less independently. So the samskaras lost most of their contents and importance; only its religious sanctity survived in its truncated form. The samskaras, which once constituted a serious attempt at the reformation of man, were reduced to mere ceremonies. The samskaras today are in the majority of cases a matter of routine benefit of effective influence.

Hinduism assimilated foreign elements in its fold throughout its long history. These elements conformed to the broad outline of Hinduism, but they did not find minute ritualistic details congenial to them. They performed the most important samskaras like the Vivaha (Marriage) and the Antyesti (Funeral), which they could not escape, but they had little use of the minor ones. The advent of Islam in India eclipsed Hindu culture and in the major part of the country there was no free opportunity to perform religious rites. For their safety the masses abstained from ostentacious ritualistic procedure and only a few orthodox families performed them at their great risk. The later and modern impact of materialism from the west has attacked Hinduism on a different plane. Through western educational system and foreign medium of instruction it has uprooted the majority of young people receiving the new education from their moorings both intellectually and emotionally. It has made its converts hostile towards the traditional life of the country, sceptic towards spiritual values of the life and impatient of any religious discipline. They are getting lost to the very sacramental conception of life. This constitutes the gravest menace to the samskaras. The only saving feature for the samskaras is the reaction which is visible today against materialism in a serious section of humanity, which may restore the religious and spiritual values to man in future again.

Revivalism and the Samskaras
In the nineteenth century in Indian the impact of western influences was on the one hand, capturing the mind of a large number of young people, on the other hand, it created a reaction against it led by nationalistic cultural movements. The more orthodox of them, like the Arya Samaja and the Sanatana Dharma movements, sought to defend the Hindu community firstly by restoring to the charges hurled by the foreigners against the Hindu religion and culture and secondly by reviving the old social and religious institutions with some reforms and simplification, so that they might attract the educated people intellectually. The samskaras were revived with a zeal and they appealed to the people for some time, but they are loosing their influence again. The real question is not the West versus the East; it is the Old versus New. The samskaras originated in the hoary past when the problems and the needs of the society were different from what they are today; the mind of the people was working under an ideology which was peculiar to its age. Today the society has changed; the man has changed accordingly; his beliefs, sentiments ans aspirations have all undergone change. Unless the samskaras are also transformed in the light of new developments, they cannot appeal to the new mind.

Prospects
The samskaras were the expressin of human beliefs, sentiments, aspirations, hopes and fears, and they catered for human needs. With changes in life they are bound to change. By scientific discoveries many mysteries of life have been solved and man’s control over his environment has immensely increased. Many natural forces which were feared or respected have become docile servants of man. Material resources of life are getting multiplied. Many fields of life which were regarded sacred have now become secular. So, the awe and reverence with which the religious rites were performed are diminishing gradually. But in spite of all these changes in the material aspects of the world, certain central mysteries of life and some fundamental needs of human existence will remain. Though the evolutionary process of life has been analysed and studied, the origin of life, its constituents and their combinations are still puzzling the human mind, and there does not seem to be any possibility of solving the central problem of life satisfactorily. At the source of life man is even today experiencing the mystic touch of the invisible. This fact will keep alive the religious sentiments in man. Though the magic hold of religion in some fields of life will be loosened, the human heart will not part with the sanctity which is imparted by religious sanction. The consecration of life will never cease. Similarly the fact that life is an art and it requires conscious and planned efforts for its cultivation and refinement will never die out. The art of race culture and nation building will always form an important part of human progress. The samskaras will change their old garbs and will assume new shapes
 

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