The Meaning And The Number Of The Samskaras

JaneSmith105

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1. The Meaning of the word ‘Samskara’

The word Samskăra defies every attempt at its correct translation into English. Ceremony or Latin caerimonia does not give the full meaning of this word. Rather it corresponds with Sanskrit Karman, religious act in general. Samskŕra does not mean "more outward religious rite, polite observances, empty form, stately usage, formalities and punctilious behaviour"’ as it is generally understood by some people. Nor does it mean rites and rituals alone by which we understand "form of procedure, action required or usual in a religious or solemn ceremony or observance, or a body of usages characteristic of a church.' A better approach to the rendering of Samskara in English is made by the word sacrament which means "religious ceremony or act regarded as outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace", applied by the Eastern, pre-reformation Western, and Roman Catholic churches to the seven rites of baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders and matrimony. Sacrament also means confirmation of some promise or oath; things of mysterious significance, sacred influence and symbol." Thus it overlaps many other religious spheres which, in the Sanskrit literature, are covered by "Suddhi, purification,’ Prăyaschitta, "atonement;’ Vratas, ‘‘vows’’ etc.

The word Samskara is derived from the Sanskrit root Samskrghan and is used in a variety of ways. It is seldom found in the early Vedic literature. But its allied word ‘Samskrita’ occurs frequently enough. In the Rigveda (V. 76. 2) it is used in the sense of purified’ ‘The two Asvins do not harm the gharma (vessel) that has teen purified." The Satapatha Brahmana (1.1.4.10) uses the term in the sense of preparing or purifying havis (offering) for the gods. The Mimansakas mean by it the ceremonious purification of sacrificial materials. In the Sutras of Jaimini the word ‘Samskara’ has been applied several times in the sense of some purificatory rite (III. 1. 3; III. 2, 15; III. 8. 3; IX. 2, 9, 42—44). Sabra, the commentator on the Jaiminisutras (III. 1. 3) explains the term Samskăra as an act which makes a certain thing or person fit for a certain purpose. The Tantravărtika (p. 1078) regards ‘Samskăra’ as those acts and rites that impart fitness and further adds, "fitness is of two kinds." It arises from the removal of taints (sins) or by the generation of fresh qualities. Samskâras generates fresh qualities, which tapas brings about the removal of sins. "The Advaita Vedantists regard it the false attribution of physical action to the soul. The Naiyayikas use it in the sense of self-reproductive quality or faculty of impression recognised by the Vaisesikas as one of the twenty four gunas. In the classical Sanskrit literature the word Samskăra is used in a very wide sense :—in the sense of education, cultivation, training: refinement, perfection and grammatical purity;’ making perfect, refining, polishing; embellishment, decoration and ornament; impression, form, mould, operation, inbuence; the faculty of recollection, impression on the memory; ' a purificatory rite, a sacred rite or ceremony;" consecration, sanctification and hallowing; idea, notion and conception; effect of work, merit of action etc.

So we find that the word "Samskara" has got its own peculiar associations gathered round it through its long history. It means religious purificatory rites and ceremonies for sanctifying the body, mind and intellect of an individual, so that he may become a full-fledged member of the community. But the Hindu Samskăras also combine a number of preliminary considerations and rites and other accompanying regulations and observances, all aiming at not only the formal purification of the body but at sanctifying, impressing, refining and perfecting the entire individuality of the recipient. The Samskaras with their paraphernalia were regarded as producing a peculiar indefinable kind of merit for the man who underwent them a "a peculiar excellence due to the rites ordained (by the Sastrăs) which resides either in the soul or the body.’’ It was in this collective sense that the word Samskâra was used.

Though many of the Samskaras originated in, or even before, the Vedic period, as the ritualistically specific hymns' of the Vedas indicate, the word ‘Samskara’ does not occur in the Vedic literature. The Brahmana literature also does not mention the word, though some sections of it contain fragments of a few Samskaras like the Upanayana, the funeral etc' The Mimansakas used the word in the sense of not purificatory rites concerning individuals but in the sense of cleansing and purifying sacrificial materials before they were offered into fire.

2. The Extent and Number of the Samskaras

i ) The Grhyasütras. The Samskaras, in the strict sense, fall within the jurisdiction of the Grhyasutras. But here too we do not find the word "Samskara" used in its proper sense. They too use the word in the sense of the Mimansakas and speak of the Pancabhusamskăras’T and the Paka-Samskaras by which they mean sweeping, sprinkling and purifying the sacrificial ground and boiling or preparing food for sacrifice. The hold of sacrifices on the social mind was great. They classify the entire domestic rituals under the names of different sacrifices.' The bodily Samskăras are included in the list of the Pakayajnas.' The Pâraskara-Grhyasutra divides the Pâka-yajnas into four classes, the huta. the ăhuta, the prahuta and the prasita. The Baudhayana-Grhyasutra classifies the Pakayajnas under seven heads, the huta, the prahuta, the âhuta, the Sulagava, the baliharana, the pratyavarohana and the astakahoma. It explains them as follows. Where the offerings are thrown into the fire it is called huta. This class includes the Samskaras from the Vivăha (marriage) to the Siniantonnayana (hair-parting). Where, after making offerings to the fire, presents are given to the Brahmanas and others it is called prahuta. This group contains the Samskâras from the Jatakarma (birth ceremonies) to the Chaula (tonsure). That kind of sacrifices are called ăhuta where after making offerings to the fire and presents to the Brahmans, one receives presents from others. The Upanayana and the Samavartana Samskaras are included in this list, Thus, here what are later on, called the Samskaras are treated as domestic sacrifices. There seems to be no clear idea about sanctifying the body and perfecting personality. The gods are the centre of religious activities and not individuals. So the sacrifices, including even the bodily Samskâras, were offered for their propitiation.

In the VaikhanasaSmartasutras we find a clearer distinction between the bodily Samskaras and the sacrifices, that were performed at various occasions to propitiate the gods. Here eighteen bodily Samskaras (Astadasa Samskarah Sărirăh), from the Rtusamagamana (conception) to the Vivaha (marriage) are mentioned. Again, the same work mentions the twenty-two sacrifices separately.’ These sacrifices include the Pancamahayajnas, the seven Paka-sacrifices, the seven Havi sacrifices and the seven Soma sacrifices. Properly speaking, these are not personal Samskaras but daily and seasonal sacrifices.

The Grhyasutras generally deal with the bodily Samskaras beginning with Vivaha and ending with Samăvartana. The majority of them omit the funeral. Only a few, e.g., the the Păraskara, the Asvalăyana and the Baudhayana describe it. The following are the numbers of Samskâras dealt with in the Grhyasutras. They fluctuate from twelve to eighteen and the lists are slightly varying in names of some particular Samskâras or in some additions and omissions.
 

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Asvalăyana G.S.( I ) Păraskara G.S. ( II )Baudhŕyana G.S ( III )
1VivăhaVivăhaVivăha
2GarbhâlambhanaGarbhâlambhanaGarbhâlambhana
3PumsavanaPumsavanaPumsavana
4SimantonnayanaSimantonnayanaSimantonnayana
5JatakarmaJatakarmaJatakarma
6NamakaranaNamakaranaNamakarana
7ChudakarmaChudakarmaUpaniskramana
8AnnaprasanaAnnaprasanaAnnaprasana
9UpanayanaCudakarmaCudakarma
10SamavartanaUpanayanaKarnavedha (Grhya sesa)
11AntyestiKesăntaUpanayana
SamăvartanaSamăvartana
AntyestiPitrmedha


Varaha G. S.Vaikhanasa G. S.
1JatakarmaRtusamgamana
2NămakaranaGarbhadhäna
3DantodgamanaSimanta
4AnnaprăsanaVisnubali
5Chudakarna Jatakarma
6UpanayanaUtthana
7VedaVratăniNămakarana
8GodanaAnnaprăsana
9SamavartanaPravâsăgamana
10VivahaPindavardhana
11GarbhâdhănaChaulaka
12Pumsavana Upanayana
13SimantonnayanaPărŕyana
14Vratabandhavisarga
15Upăkarma
16Utsarjana
17Samâvartana
18Panigrahana
 

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(II) The Dharmasutras being mostly occupied with the Hindu laws and custom, not all of them care to describe or enumerate the Samskáras. They contain rules about the Upanayana. Vivăha, Upakarma, Utsarjana, Anadhyâyas and Asaucha. The Gautama -Dharmasutra gives a list of altogether forty Samskăras with eight virtues of the soul (Chatvărinsatsamskarah Astau Atmagunah)

1. Garbhadhăna2. Pumsavana3. Simantonnayan4. Jatakarma
5. Namakarana6. Annaprăsana7. Chaula8. Upanayana
9-12 Chatvări Veda.Vratani13. Snana14. Sahadharmacharini
Samyoga
15-19. Panca Mahayajnas
20-26 Astaka, Parvana, Sraddha, Sravani, Agrahayani, Chaitre Asvayaji-iti Saptapaka -Yajna-Samsthah27-33. Agnyadheyam,Agnihotram, Darsa Puranamasya, Chaturmasya, Agrayanesti, Nirudha - Pasubndha, Sautramani - iti Sapta - Haviyajna - Samsthah34-40 Agnistoma,
Atyagnitstoma,Uktha, Sodasi, Vajapeya, Atiratra, Aptoryama -iti-sapt, Somayajna - Samstha

Here too we do not find a clear distinction between the Samskáras proper and the sacrifices. All the domestic rites and many Srauta sacrifices elaborately described in the Brahmanas and the Srautasutras, are placed with the Samskaras in the above list. The word "Samskăra" is used in the sense of religious rites in general.

According to Hărita, a later Smrti-writer, the sacrifices are to be taken as the Daiva Samskăras and other ceremonies, that were performed at the various occasions in the life of an individual, as the Brăhma Samskăras. Only the latter are to be taken as the Samskŕras in the proper sense. No doubt, indirectly the sacrifices were of purificatory nature but their direct purpose was to propitiate gods at different seasons, whereas the main object of the Samskâras proper was to sanctify the personality of the recipient. Many of the sacrifices, e.g. Chaitri, Asvayuji, were seasonal festivals that later on crystallised into popular feasts and rejoicings.

(iii) The Smrtis. When the Smrtis arose, the sacrificial religion and with them the Daiva Samskaras were on the wane. The Smritis generally mean by Samskaras only those sacramental rites that were performed for sanctifying the personality of an individual, though some of them include the Păkayajnas also in their lists. According to Manu the Smarta Samskăras or the Samskaras proper are thirteen, from conception to death. Beginning from the conception they are:
1. Garbhadhăna2. Pumsavana3. Simantonnayana4. Jatakarma
5. Namadheya6. Niskramana7. Annapräsana8. Chudăkarma
9. Upanayana or Maunjibandhana10. Kesŕnta11. Samavartan12. Vivaha
13. Smasana
 

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The Yajnavalkya Smrti also enumerates the same Samskäras except the Kesănta which was omitted from the list owing to the decline of the Vedic studies and its confusion with the Samavartana. The Gautama Smrti, following the tradition of its school, enumerates the forty Samskaras, though it does not seem oblivious of the fact that the Vedic sacrifices had fallen in disuse and consequently the Daiva Samskăras were not regarded as the Samskaras proper. The list of Angira contains twenty-five Samskăras. Here the Pŕkayajnas are also enumerated with the bodily Samskaras mentioned in Manu and Yajnavalkya. The later Smrtis supply the list of sixteen Samskaras. According to the Vyasa Smrti the Samskaras are Garbhadhăna, Niskrama, Annaprăsana, Vapanakriyă, Karnvedha, Vratadesa, Vedarambha, Kesŕnta, Snana, Udvaha, Vivahagniparigraha and Tretagnisamgraha. In this list Karnavedha and the last two Samskáras are added to the number given in Manu and Yańjnavalkya. This late addition was due to the fact that Karnavedha was regarded as a Samskara only later, originally being meant for decoration. jatukarnya also provides a list of sixteen Samskăras but he includes the Four Vows of the Vedic study instead of Vedarambha and retains Antya or funeral, dropping the last two Samskáras of Vyása.

(iv) Treatises. The mediaeval treatises generally devote one section to the Samskaras and in the introduction lists of Gautama, Ańgiră, Vyăsa, Játükrnya etc. are compiled. The majority of them exclude the Daiva Samskâras or the pure sacrifices from their treatment. For example, the Viramitrodaya and the Smrtichandrika the Samskaramanykha quote the list of Gautama but they deal with only the Brahma or Smarta Samskŕras from Garbhadhana to Vivaha. So, by Samskăras they mean only the bodily Samskaras. They also, like the majority of the Srutis, exclude the funeral which was described in separate books. The Nibandhas, besides the classical Smarta Samskăras, describe a large number of minor rites and war-ships which were either the offshoot of the major Samskaras or were included in them. They were popularly performed but were not elevated to the position of a separate Samskara.

(v) The Paddhatis and the Prayogas. The Paddhatis and the Prayogas also deal with only the Brahma Samskaras and leave the Daiva Samskăras altogether, partly because they have now become obsolete and partly the current Pakayajnas are described elsewhere. The funeral is always treated separately the usual number of the Samskaras in them is from ten to thirteen (from Garbhadhana to Vivaha). Many of the Paddhatis are actually called "The Dasakarmas - Paddhati," or "The Manual of Ten Ceremonies’’

3. The Sixteen Samskaras

At present sixteen are the most popular Samskaras, though the enumeration differs in different books. The latest Paddhatis have adopted this number. The Simrtyarthasara (p.3) contains ‘Here are the Samskaras from Garbhadhana (conception) to Vivaha (marriage). There are necessary main Samskaras sixteen in number. The digest usually enumerate sixteen Samskaras. The Samskaravidhi of Swami Dayanand Saraswati and the Sodasa -Samsara Vidhi of Pandit Bhimasena Sarma contain only the sixteen Samskaras.

As already pointed out, Antyesti or the funeral Samskara is not enumerated by Gautama in his long list of forty-eight Samskaras, it has been generally omitted by the Grihyasutras, the Dharmasutras and the Smrtis and neglected by later works on the Samskaras. The reason underlying this exclusion or indifference was that the funeral was regarded as an inauspicious ceremony and it should not be described with auspicious ones. It was, perhaps, also due to the fact that the life history of an individual closes with the advent of death and the post-mortem ceremonies had no direct bearing on the cultivation of personality. Nevertheless, Antyesti was recognised as a Samskara. Some Grhyasutras describe it, Manu, Yajnavalkya, jatukarnya enumerate it in the list of the Samskaras. The funeral belongs to the class of ceremonies in which Vedic Mantras were recited, and these Mantras are mostly taken from Vedic funeral hymns. In the present thesis, where there is no psychological bias against it, Antyesti has found its proper place among the Samskaras.
 
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